As far as debut albums go, Absenteeism from Quiet Lions is a spectacularly ambitious project. From the band’s grandiose Alt-Rock sound, to the social commentary, numerous narratives and subtle and not so subtle political musings, there’s a lot to unravel here.
The Brighton quartet have set out to make a statement with this album and they have gone big. The central theme of the album is social media and its influence on today’s society. But there’s so much more other stuff going on. Through a series of recurring characters, the band touches on feelings of loss of self, politics, isolation, depression, suicide and so much more. The premise is brilliant, and the idea to tell little individual stories with each song and then wrap that up in one cohesive body of work is admirable.
However, there is always a danger that when a band tries to do so many things at once, that some part of the album will suffer and in places that has happened here. That being said, first and foremost, to have a band come out with their debut album and have something meaningful to say is incredible. So, from a lyrical, and song writing standpoint, it’s pretty much impossible to find fault with this album. There’s no wasted motion, every stroke of the writer’s pen matters, every single word in every single song, matters.
Issues only arrive when you look at the bigger picture. There’s more to songs than just lyrics. As strong as the song writing is, at times it’s clear that the rest of the track was a little overlooked. And the result is that there are songs on Absenteeism that just won’t grab you, and because of this you won’t take in the message that the song is trying to make. Tracks like ‘Broken Bed Of Stone,’ ‘Field Of Influence’ and ‘Powerless At Sea’ all have the potential to be so much more than they are, but they all fade into each other. There isn’t that melody, little bridge or killer riff to give the listener that hook into the song. Depending on how much you base your enjoyment of music on each of these elements will determine how big of a problem this is for you.
Nevertheless, when the band do hook up the whole package the results are staggering. The high points on this album are ‘you need chemical assistance to feel this good’ kind of high. ‘Epitaph,’ ‘Youth In Question’ and ‘Lighthouse’. ‘Lighthouse’ is about someone who has lost their way, while ‘Youth In Question’ is the true story of someone in throes of a suicide attempt being cheered on by an audience. This is music with substance.
However, it’s ‘Epitaph’ that steals the show. Lyrically the song touches on the Vote Leave campaign and the Trump presidency, while the refrain of “Like a bull in a china shop we’re making a mess of what we’ve got” makes the band’s feelings perfectly clear. But it’s the guitar work, melody and chorus that really elevate this track above the rest. It’s got everything a great song needs, and it’s got it in spades.
Absenteeism can prove to be a difficult animal to get to grips with. There is just so much going on over the course of the album, and that means it can take a few listens for it all to sink in. It requires the listener to concentrate, but if you invest in this album you will be rewarded.
Although in places the songs can become almost a little bland, like Alt-Rock by numbers, that isn’t enough to fully take the shine off what is an impressively ambitious debut. Absenteeism isn’t perfect, but Quiet Lions' unpolished and raw sound, mixed with their remarkably incisive and socially charged song writing, still make it an album you need to hear.