Claiming to have "unfinished business," former Teardrop Explodes keyboardist Paul Simpson returns with The Coldest Winter for a Hundred Years, his cult side project, The Wild Swans' first album since 1990's Space Flower and a new super-group line-up which includes the Brian Jonestown Massacre's Ricky Maymi, Echo & the Bunnymen's Will Sergeant and Les Pattinson, and Spiritualized's Mike Mooney, just to name a few. Considering the lengthy time away, and the eight years it took to release their debut album, you wouldn't think that timeliness would be one of the album's dominant themes, but perhaps inspired by how quickly the resulting two decades have flown by, much of its 13 tracks are preoccupied with the fleetingness of life, whether it's the shuffling acoustic melancholy of "Lost at Sea," the Smiths-esque shoegazing of "When Time Stood Still," or the eerie, Lynchian cinematics of "Glow in the Dark." When he's not pondering such existential issues, he's launching equally substantial diatribes against the state of the nation, such as on the chiming psychedelic folk of "English Electric Lightning," which lists the pros and cons of living in Britain; the rallying cry of avant-garde pop opener "Falling to Bits," and the several tales of disillusionment with his Liverpool hometown ("The Bluebell Wood," "My Town"). While the subject matter, and indeed Simpson's booming baritone, may be all doom and gloom, Richard Turvey's jangly production provides some contrasting light to the prevalent shade, with the melodic alt-country of "Liquid Mercury," the impassioned post-punk of "Chloroform," and the spiky new wave of "Intravenous" worthy of sitting alongside the '80s heyday standouts of most of the musicians on board. The Coldest Winter for a Hundred Years may not be the most cheerful record you'll hear all year, but it's one which proves that a curmudgeonly middle age demeanor isn't a barrier to producing triumphant indie pop. Whether this is the start of a blossoming second wind, or just a bookend to a stop-start career remains to be seen, but whatever happens, Simpson's decision to re-form a second time round has truly paid off.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien