By Tom Giles

From Luca Santucci’s opening lament you know that Spokes is not going to be a cheery album. That’s no bad thing, I hear you cry – God forbid if Plaid went Daft Punk. Elegant as the beginning is, the same level of emotion is rarely reached elsewhere on the LP: the problem is it’s just dreary.

I don’t mean to be too damning. I do like it, there are some striking pieces – over and above the opener there is the retro Upona and the funkier Get What You Gave. But Spokes isn't good as a whole. The ten songs don’t work well together, and the most prominent theme that draws them together is their melancholy, highly electronic sound. The album is not poor simply because it is melancholy, but because it never reaches great heights of that emotion. Neither is it poor because it doesn't display Plaid's hip hop tendencies, but because without some happier or funkier parts Plaid sound simply depressed and slightly too dull. In terms of song-writing Spokes is a poor cousin of last year's P-Brane EP.

The problems with this album are, however, indicative of a wider problem for Plaid. As trailblazers in the early nineties, both as a duo and in the early Black Dog collaboration with Ken Downie, they greatly expanded the reach of British electronica and techno, bringing to the fore the emotional, atmospheric element often left implicit in the harder Detroit-originated sound. But whilst their more recent work has always been laudable and distinctive, it appears to have lost the spark that it once had. The techniques Plaid employ on Spokes are common in contemporary electronica, which leaves the album sounding more like a modern pastiche of early Plaid.

That all said, there is no disputing that Ed Handley and Andy Turner are an extremely talented duo – they just need to breathe some new life into the Plaid oeuvre to prevent it going stale.
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