After about a minute of the Outsiders EP, and following the sad, sinking feeling that Athlete have indeed lost the plot that inspired their promising pair of opening albums, and – even more upsettingly - dropped back into the undeserved rank of Snow Patrol also-rans, I just couldn’t shake the disturbing images that flooded my mind: Handsome American college kids were all experiencing solitary heartbreak as some dark night of the soul played out. But it was all spookily in synch with the music.
For, apparently, despite the endearingly English oddness that was once part of Athlete’s appealing kickabout of a sound, they have completed their relegation into the league of bland, plodding fodder for Yank teen drama soundtracks. And if it’s true to say that lazy directors use music to evoke emotion where their pictures, plot and pace fail to work, then Athlete are equally guilty of falling back on easy tricks. Mid-tempo melancholy? Tick. Indie shuffle drum pattern? Check. Piano? Oh yes. Slight edge of weirdness to suggest Radiohead were right, and all is not what it seems? Indeed, sir.
It's a shame. And I say none of this with glee or gusto, for I honestly did warm to Athlete, and have checked in with all of their three albums to date. But last year's 'Beyond The Neighbourhood' album, from which the title track of this EP along with two more of the five tracks are re-records, was a missed shot at an open goal – and I fear we’re now into the injury time of Athlete’s career. On the strength of this all too familiar collection of mid-paced sadness, it’s going to take a bloomin’ miracle to pull a goal out before the record company blow the whistle on this team. It's enough to make this grown man cry like Gazza.