Athlete can't quite manage to figure out what they want or what they are. Their 2003 debut, Vehicles & Animals, was a fun, poppy album that earned Athlete a Mercury prize nomination, but their sophomore effort, Tourist, moved away from the indie feel of their first record toward mainstream and network television-friendly material, and garnered the band a lot of comparisons to Coldplay. For their third record, they continue to explore the brooding, effected-guitar layering that they had previously done, pushing a little bit into the "experimental," with curvaceous instrumental lines, echoing keyboards, and a bit of electronic percussion, but Beyond the Neighbourhood is still very much an album for the mainstream. It's very cleanly produced and nothing ever gets too loud or out of place; even the distorted guitar that introduces "Second Hand Store" is controlled, blended softly into the background and melodically based, lead singer Joel Pott trying his best to find the correct amount of affected quaver and Bono/Chris Martin-inspired sentimentality needed to stir his listeners appropriately. Not that every song here is about love or one of its many guises -- "The Outsiders" contains the lyrics "Let's pick a fight on whoever we like cause we're never wrong/Nobody likes us, we don't care, so let's lose ourselves...Can you spot the English here?," while the single "Hurricane" is about, well, hurricanes ("Is it something we gotta get used to?/But we're not giving up the coastline so easily") -- but the album is mostly about emotion and expressing emotion, and finding the right driving piano hooks and reverbing guitar chords to enhance such feelings. All of which means that Beyond the Neighbourhood is not particularly extraordinary. This kind of thing has been done before (and as with the case of Coldplay, done better: catchier, more sincere, and seeming less contrived), and reinforces the idea that Athlete are still trying to decide what they want to be, and at this point, three albums in, it may be that they never quite learn what that is.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown