[sic] Magazine

The Boxer Rebellion – Union

There was always something Heathcliff about TBR. Their music either brooded sulkily or stood upon the precipice to rage against the tempest. A loyal, cult following knew a real band when they saw one. Heroic yet vulnerable, we watched them scale dangerous heights on the darkly defiant ‘Exits’.
And then we watched them fall.

Awareness of TBR’s troubled back-story will only magnify the impact of this majestic comeback. I’m not ashamed to admit; on first listen my eyes were less than dry. I hate it when music does this to me. How have they managed this? How could a band return from such a close up view of Hell only to deliver a record that sounds more suited to the other place? There are genuine ‘shiver down the spine’ moments everywhere, every time Todd Howe’s guitar tears strips out of the sky. I love it when music does this to me.

bq. “And then we’ll rise
With hope in our eyes
And take you by surprise”

‘Union’ is unquestionably the finest blend of seething intensity and emotionally scarred ambience for years. Not since The Bends has such a collection of bruised, tender anthems worked so cohesively across an album format. There were signposts before. Material such as ‘Lay me down’ and ‘The Absentee’ (from Exits) signaled the bands potential grandeur. Since then these boxers have moved up a weight. Their peers used to be the likes of The Cooper Temple Clause. Now they spar easily with Kings of Leon, The Verve or even Coldplay. (‘These walls are thin’) Thankfully TBR music doesn’t suffer the limitations of the so-called ‘Bedwetter’ bands. Beautiful, effect-laden melodies? Yes, but not only that. Crucially TBR are the full package.

There is such texture on Union. ‘Evacuate’ could be Interpol if the New Yorkers understood passion. ‘Spitting fire’ is the nailed-on, stealth, chart infiltrator. Nathan Nicholson even veers close to Sigur Ros territory when unveiling his ‘not so angst-ridden’ falsetto (‘Soviets’, ‘Flashing Red…’ ‘Misplaced’) There are just too many highlights to mention. The album is the highlight. It’s a ‘must have’. Give yourself this record.
Give yourself to this record.

Comparisons with The Verve and Radiohead are no stretch whatsoever. Union is a hybrid of The Bends and A Northern Soul. Interesting when you consider both were sophomore albums, both from 1995 and two years later both bands went stellar. Are you joining the dots here? All I can say with certainty is that even if 2009 proves to be a vintage, watershed year for music we will still be discussing Union at Christmas. Guaranteed.

The Boxer Rebellion are stretching their hands to the heavens. Stars fall though their fingers like glittery sand.