When I first heard Cardinal's eponymous debut I was pleasantly surprised. Released in 1994 to the ignorant ears of many, it threw a chamber pop sound out into a world that didn't quite know what to do with it! Perhaps it was this sense of rebellious ingenuity that made this duo so easy for me to love. Eric Matthews and Richard Davies made up Cardinal and now, after an almost two decade split the group have reformed to bring us their sophomore album 'Hymns'. Unfortunately, what was an incredibly fresh sound has gone off in the sun ray that once kissed it. The group's relevance and innovation has waned over their eighteen year break, a period within which the likes of Belle and Sabastian and The Clientele have gone and recorded some fantastic albums. Cardinal were fooling themselves if they thought the release of an LP, that hasn't evolved much at all, would reinstate them on the pedestal of breezy, vintage sounds that were so original a relatively long time ago! The opening track 'Northern Soul' built my anticipation to a stomach-churning level, only for its bumbling and aimless successors to knock it down. Abundant warm production and summery vibes are far from ear-offending but the tenuous, anemic nature of nearly every song make 'Hymns' simply pointless. The buoyant brass of the opening number turns into annoyingly arrogant embellishments which add nothing save the throbbing oncomings of unavoidable boredom and a subtle, niggling headache. 'Hymns' is so innocuous in every other way that it barely registered with me upon my first listen, the tracks merging into a sonic confusion as they flow into each other aimlessly. In the end I'm left thinking I should've stuck with their debut!
In all seriousness, Cardinal haven't audibly changed their sound from 1994, which is a major flaw. Their eponymous debut clicked with me because it was something new, and in many ways 'Hymns' manages to detract from that album! Boring and bland, nothing within these ten tracks can maintain any sort of hook or catchy melody. Feeble vocals and a set of unmemorable lyrics leave you with a taste in your mouth you would sooner forget than endure again. I doubt Cardinal will gain any contemporary followers after this, but a few of the duos older fans may find it in their hearts to purchase 'Hymns'. Personally I will not be! Stream 'Love Like Rain' below and, if you feel the urge, buy the full via Fire Records here!