Following the release of their award winning single ‘Wires’, Athlete shot to fame. To date it remains their most recognised song. That’s not to say they weren’t already acknowledged artists. Their debut album Vehicles and Animals itself was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and a platinum seller, not a bad feat at all from a new band struggling for a foot hold in an increasingly hard music climate to break into.
Following the commercial success of their second album Tourist (which headed the UK Albums Chart in the first week of its release in 2005), it seemed they were destined to be subject of slate from music critics and general snobs. Like many bands before, and many bands in the future, they were unable to turn their commercial success into critical acclaim and have indeed been chucked into the group of bands merely described as ‘middle-of-the-road’, joining the likes of Starsailor and Keane.
Brig Music caught up with drummer Steve Roberts who feels the criticism was unjustified. “Every album we’ve tried to do something different and we’ve attempted a different sound but I don’t think a lot of people choose to see that”.
Perhaps the biggest change in sound between albums was between that of their debut album Vehicles and Animals to the more sombre Tourist, it also gained significantly more radio time. There was a much lighter electronic bubbly sound surrounding the Mercury Music Award nominee Vehicles and Animals which they’ve never since be able to replicate successfully.
It was a big change in attitude from the press. In just four years following the success of Vehicles and Animals which did seem to get a balanced response from public and press. Fresh sing-along indie tunes such as El Salvador and Westside, neatly accompanied by an electronic vibe throughout the album did offer a lot of promise for their future. However, following the release of Tourist which saw them being viewed as one of many British ‘bland’ bands, they’ve never been able to detach themselves from it, and seem happy enough not doing so.
Their previous two albums, Beyond the Neighbourhood and Swan Song have seen single success with ‘Superhuman Touch’ and ‘Hurricane’ generating radio air time, however, there’s very little deviation from the sound. Catchy three minute sing along choruses have become their forte and ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ appears to be the ideology they’ve adapted.
This does bring into question the ambitions of such bands that seem content to plod along the middle of the road making the most of what they can produce. They’re latest release is a collection of their all their singles between 2001 to 2010, which is currently being accompanied by a nationwide tour to promote it. It must be said however, that due to pressures from record label’s accountants, many bands are rushed to produce marketable content, something Roberts was critical of. “It’s a fact of matter that once your on the accountant’s spreadsheet, then you’re always under pressure to release new material – which has been the downfall of many bands in the past”.
The band have however achieved significant success State side, an achievement many more renowned bands haven’t been able to boast. The ability to crack the States is something that has evaded the likes of Oasis and many others, however isn’t an easy thing to do. Roberts said, “it’s very different from being successful in Britain. For starters, it might take you a couple of weeks to play a nationwide tour in the UK, in America it could take you several months to cover. You’ve then got to worry about gaining airplay on significantly more radio stations than in Britain”.
Despite their apparent inability to escape the shadow of their previous successes, they still put on an impressive live show, which does brag an atmosphere of enjoyment and gives off a vibe of a band enjoying what they’re doing.