Perhaps it’s no coincidence that “Wires,” Athlete’s highest-charting single to date, is also one of the band’s most subdued tunes. Since the release of Vehicles & Animals in 2003, Athlete has been universally compared to Coldplay, another British band with a penchant for soaring, supersized pop songs. Both groups make albums designed for the Wembley Stadiums and O2 Arenas of the world, but Coldplay does so with more finesse, not to mention a higher degree of commercial success. Athlete has been left to pick up Chris Martin’s crumbs, and it’s only when the band turns down the volume and settles into something different -- a quiet, poignant groove -- that they establish their own identity. The best track on Athlete s fourth album is “Love Come Rescue,” an acoustic ballad that, like “Wires,” sounds significantly quieter than the songs surrounding it. Sparse and haunting, it’s a reminder of the raw talent that exists beneath the band’s swirling guitar riffs and effects pedals. Black Swan still concerns itself with anthems -- there are many of them here, and most are more than four minutes long -- but the track list is broken up by the occasional ballad, and the tracks that do pump up the volume do so with a nuanced, mature approach. Athlete still has work to do in the lyrics department; sentiments like “I’m on fire and nothing’s gonna hold me back” can’t help but sound clichéd when paired with such driving, grand orchestration. Black Swan is a definite sign of progress, though, and the band would do well to follow its path on future releases.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey