Starsailor's 2001 debut, Love Is Here -- a million-selling Brit-rock triumph described by critics and fans alike as a tender, majestic union of Van Morrison, Jeff Buckley and the Verve -- was pretty much a hunk of crap. Leader James Walsh's drab songwriting and overwrought vocals were about as stirring as peristalsis, and by the disc's middle, the whole thing melts into a droopy, shapeless mess of tedious earnestness and soft-boiled ambition even more rote than its title.
Ready for the tooth-grinding followup? Well, you won't find it here. At least not exactly: While Silence Is Easy isn't much more than a lateral move for Starsailor, it outflanks most of the pitfalls that Love Is Here tripped up on. Much ballyhoo has been issued about Phil Spector's work on this album (the legendary producer was sacked by the band for irreconcilable musical differences just weeks before his arrest for murder last year), but it's precisely the lack of anything resembling Spector's trademark "Wall of Sound" that helps Silence Is Easy stand apart from its predecessor. The songs are stripped down like saplings in the winter wind, the bare melodies brightened here and there by petals of strings and organ. Walsh's penchant for dorky balladry has been honed to a humble, hushed moan that's just the other side of passably decent -- which is still quite an improvement.
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Even more shocking are the rockers. "Music Was Saved" (yeah, these guys' patois is as prosaic as the side of a cereal box) is a lilting jangle-fest that approximates the Stone Roses singing hallelujah to The Church. As if either mocking or paying tribute to Spector, the dark, funky "Four to the Floor" is eerily similar to "The Art of Dying," from George Harrison's All Things Must Pass -- a record produced by the alleged killer. Silence Is Easy's title track is one of two on the disc that Spector actually did work on, and it's a dead ringer for David Bowie's spine-chilling epic "Heroes," right down to the two-chord hook and shuffling beat. And although it fails to elicit more than a nagging itch between the shoulder blades, "Silence Is Easy" just happens to be the shining, standout moment on this album. Here's hoping that Starsailor keeps on its slow but steady trajectory toward rock greatness. By 2036, they should have it nailed.