One of the most successful guitar bands of the mid-noughties, London four-piece Athlete have always been far more accepted by the chart-buying public than the harsh and often snobbish music press. Indeed, apart from a Mercury Music Prize nomination for their debut, Vehicles and Animals, they are often subjected to the same kind of derision reserved for fellow unfashionable groups Starsailor, Travis, and Coldplay. Of course, the comparisons sparked by their number one album Tourist aren't completely wide of the mark. Top Five single "Wires," the World War Two-inspired "Black Swan Song," and the string-soaked "Twenty Four Hours" are indeed the kind of epic anthemic ballads that Chris Martin is notorious for. However, Singles 01-10, their first retrospective, contains tracks from their four studio albums and reveals them as more adventurous than they are given credit for. Early singles "El Salvador" and "Westside" recall the playful observations of Parklife-era Blur, "Superhuman Touch" and "You Got the Style" are full of swirling synths and squelchy beats, while the downbeat jazz-infected "The Outsiders" wouldn't sound out of place on Radiohead's experimental masterpiece OK Computer. Elsewhere, the album's only new composition, "Back Track," is packed with Nintendo-esque electronic bleeps; "Half Light" and "Hurricane" are crunching guitar pop reminiscent of Elbow's less grandiose moments, while even the MOR tracks such as "Tourist" are lent an air of distinction, thanks to frontman Joel Potts' unusual, elongated vocal style. With sales of their recent output on a downward trajectory, Singles 01-10 is a welcome reminder that Athlete are fully capable of producing melodic and inventive tunes which contradict their rather unflattering "indie bedwetters" reputation.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien