Free All Angels finally hits the United States a full year after its release in the U.K., where it's been a huge hit. And fortunately, the album's being released here in summer, because if Free All Angels is anything, it's a Summer Album. Which is exactly what singer-guitarist Tim Wheeler intended it to be: "We've been walking barefoot all summer," he sings on the album's opening track, "Walking Barefoot." Even some of the titles--"Candy," "Cherry Bomb," "Burn, Baby, Burn," "Pacific Palisades"--should immediately give informed pop-rock fans an idea of what they're about to hear. That Ramones-damaged last track actually opens with two lines from "Surfer Girl" before mentioning both Brian and Dennis Wilson by name. Not exactly what you'd expect from a quartet that began in Northern Ireland, and that's probably most of the point, if not all of the fun.
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Wheeler's all too willing to show the other side of summer, however, partly through his newfound obsession with sampling (there are Dr. Dre-like piano touches to be found here), but mostly in the inexplicable sadness that pervades most of the disc. "Candy" quite obviously lifts the opening hook from Scott Walker's version of Burt Bacharach's "Make It Easy On Yourself," creating a gorgeous, brand-new song. Most everything on Free All Angels, even the seemingly upbeat material, has that same Walker/Bacharach downcast spirit. And while "Pacific Palisades" may name-check the Wilson brothers, it also mentions Sharon Tate. What you're left with, then, is a Summer Album, yes, yet it's one full of melancholy; maybe it would be better considered a Summer School Album instead. It's an often-beautiful record, but perhaps also an acknowledgement that every culture gets exactly the summer it deserves.