After experimenting with Phil Spector-produced cinematic pop on Silence Is Easy and a harder-edged U.S.-influenced rock sound on On the Outside, Lancashire four-piece Starsailor go back to basics on their fourth studio album, All the Plans. Teaming up for the second time with Steve Osborne, producer of their debut album Love Is Here, their first release since signing to Virgin Records, harks back to their trademark heart-tugging brand of acoustic indie rock, which initially earned them comparisons to the likes of Coldplay, Travis, and the Verve. Opening track "Tell Me It's Not Over," a melancholic tale of infidelity soundtracked by a wall of anthemic piano chords, chiming guitars, and James Walsh's tender, plaintive tones, might not exactly break new ground, but it's possibly their best single since 2001's heart-achingly raw "Alcoholic." Elsewhere, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood pops up on the title track, a vintage slice of rock & roll which recalls the attitude-laden swagger of early Oasis; "Boy in Waiting" is a stripped-down melodic ballad featuring a lilting piano hook reminiscent of Bruce Hornsby's "That's the Way It Is," while "Neon Sky" is an emotionally fraught fusion of atmospheric organs, swelling choirs, and an epic falsetto-led chorus, which Walsh claims is the best song he's ever written. But despite its regressive nature, All the Plans still offers up a few surprises. The Spaghetti Western feel of "The Thames" echoes the Ennio Morricone-inspired output of the Last Shadow Puppets, a sound they also revisit on the twanging, guitar-led "Stars and Stripes," while the album's closer, "Safe at Home," is a brooding, sparsely produced slice of country-blues which suggests the band have been listening to late Johnny Cash as much as their more obvious inspirations, Tim Buckley, Radiohead, and Van Morrison. Starsailor have never been as strong lyrically as they have musically, and All the Plans is no exception with banal lines like "is love just a big mistake?/just a risk that we all take" overshadowing their rather impressive handling of more difficult themes like suicide and imperialist America, while Walsh's trembling delivery still occasionally sounds like he's performing as a Jeff Buckley tribute artist. But while their early noughties contemporaries like Idlewild, JJ72, and Turin Brakes have either fallen by the wayside or retreated back into obscurity, All the Plans is a mature and welcome return to form which shows that Starsailor are stronger than ever.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien