As If to Nothing

Craig Armstrong

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As If to Nothing Review

by Tim DiGravina

If the lush, sweeping strings and ambient beats of The Space Between Us seemed cinematic, As if to Nothing suggests an even bolder turn toward film score territory. It's an indication of how Armstrong's stock rose after Moulin Rouge was released and after his work with Massive Attack was featured in advertisements and soundtracks around the world that so many collaborators join the fray here. Bono, Evan Dando, Mogwai, Photek, and David McAlmont all attempt star turns, and less well-known performers from Big Dish, Alpha, and Laub get in on the festivities as well. But Armstrong's string arrangements are still the focal point, to the extent that most of the collaborators are relegated to a back seat. The album's high points mostly reside in the instrumentals, though Evan Dando's vocals break through the electronic wash in "Wake up in New York" and former Big Dish member Steven Lindsay's voice shines through on "Let It Be Love." Swati Natekar and Mogwai give a strong showing with "Miracle" and Alpha vocalist Wendy Stubbs' tenderly voiced "Sea Song" is sublime, though less studio polish would have aided both songs. The showy reworking of U2's "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" gives Bono the chance to emote like few contemporary U2 songs. The brilliant "Waltz" sees Laub's Antye Greie-Fuchs presenting a spoken-word manifesto over ambient gurgling. The instrumental "Inhaler" is a punishing change of pace, though it betrays a heavy Depeche Mode influence. Armstrong is certainly a talented studio technician, but there's a sense that he's relying too heavily on his patented string arrangements on As if to Nothing. While the album is another stylized dose of theatrical pop electronica, there is an undeniable feeling that Craig Armstrong is holding back.

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