Anathema’s latest album, “The Optimist”, begins with the obscure intro track 32.63 N 117.14W. It seems to be setting us up for a journey, likely as a concept album. Unfortunately, the concept does not appear to manifest itself in any tangible form and the journey remains perpetually in search of a destination.

Leaving it Behind kicks in with some promise as it gradually picks up into a reasonably fast-paced, rock ‘n’ roll track. It turns out to be one of the livelier songs on the album, with an interesting groove and some progressive elements introduced later in the track. 

Endless Ways continued the tease; the track was immediately reminiscent of “Distant Satellites” and is one of several that showcases Lee Douglas’ haunting vocals. Sonically, this is a virtue; though the lyrics don’t seem to carry the content particularly far.

Again, I almost felt like the album had something with the title track: The Optimist. The urgency started to build and I felt on the edge of the pathos I’ve cherished on previous albums.

But it wasn’t to be. The album begins to decline again with San Francisco, a pretty track that doesn’t take the listener anywhere in particular (apart from maybe San Francisco, but I suspect you have to have been there previously). It was at this point I began to resign myself to the idea that this wasn’t going to be the hauntingly beautiful, heart-rending, nay, life-changing journey that was “Distant Satellites”.

Springfield carries on the trajectory of previous tracks, building gradually in a slow burn that never quite boils. 

One of the more interesting tracks on the album comes towards the end, in the form of Close Your Eyes. The track takes a sudden turn in a dark cabaret/jazz direction, oddly calling to mind Portishead. It’s a welcome departure from what has, by this point, become a predictable song structure.

Wildfires is an atmospheric track that taps into some of the “dark and challenging” music the promotional material alluded to, with some parts almost feeling like they could contribute to the soundtrack for a Silent Hill game – often bastions of unexpected music in themselves.

Back to the Start is aptly titled, as it hearkens back to some of the very earliest progressive music in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, with elements of the Beatles and Pink Floyd rising to the surface.

I was initially cautious about the opportunity to review “The Optimist”, as I feared that in my great love affair with Anathema, I would destroy my credibility by giving a perfect review barely before Overdrive had begun. However, it seems the optimist, in this case, was me. I needn’t have worried. As I sit listening to the album for the second time, I wonder if somehow I’ve missed something. I wanted to love this album, and I honestly feel bereft to say that I don’t. I hold out hope that it’ll be one of those albums that you really need to see live to be able to get it. Anathema will play 170 Russell (Melbourne) on December 6, so that will be the moment of truth.

Grab your copy of “The Optimist” via