Above & Beyond – Group Therapy

Some five years after Tri-State – considered one of the best trance albums of the last decade, and definitely in the leading pack of debut albums all round – Jono, Tony and Paavo, better known as UK trance act Above & Beyond, have finally given us their follow-up.

While you can’t help but think that it really shouldn’t have taken all this time for a follow-up album, it is fair to say they’ve been occupied at the helm of the juggernaut Anjunabeats label, as well as touring across the world any chance they get. That all in mind, my excitement to see what they’d dished up was palpable.

The album begins with the soothing and comforting (soft and fluffy some might say) sounds of Filmic, before Alchemy introduces the peaceful vocals of Zoe Johnston. While this is far from banging trance, if you throw in some lasers and a big crowd, you can imagine this song causing all sorts of unbridled enthusiasm.

Keeping the hands pointing skyward is Sun and Moon, the first release from the album, with the voice of Richard Bedford singing tales of “heaven you and I” and “our fingers touch the sky”. Eeeek. To the trance purist, male vocals can often seem out of place, although Bedford appears that many times on this album, you can’t help but get used to it. Almost. Laced with big synths and breakdowns, it is again the kind of tune that your loyal Above & Beyond fan will go weak at the knees at.

Johnston returns for You Got To Go, which for me is one of the stronger productions on the album. With some driving stuff, as well as plenty of the euphoria at appropriate times, it typifies the progressive trance that these guys do oh-so-well.

If one male vocal wasn’t enough, get ready for Black Room Boy where Bedford teams up with Above & Beyond’s own Tony McGuiness: it’s good and the fans will love it, once again sticking to the A&B recipe that works so well. Giving it Out is much the same, and by this point, is representative of a lot of the album. It’s good and does fit within the boundaries of what trance is, but it’s nowhere near as adventurous and strong in production value as what Tri-State was. It’s not quite the transformation that saw Tiesto take a notable step away from trance, but it does border on pop at times.

Then again, it’s absolutely guaranteed that while these long epic breakdowns will play out well in a big stadium, and yes, these guys are all about the touring (hell, that’s why it took them so many years for album #2). Taken as a CD in isolation, though, Group Therapy is good without being amazing.

Prelude is one of the more driving tunes of the release, but sounds so much (too much?) like Good For Me from Tri-State. Sweetest Things and Thing Called Love see a return to the proggier end of the spectrum, and much like the end of Tri-State, things get that little bit more euphoric. The last two tracks, Only A Few Things and Eternal, are the quintessential ballads; so slow in fact you occasionally think the music is just going to stop. Much like the final track Home on Tri-State, these two are almost reflective, as you look back on all that came before it, and can breathe again.

And therein lies my primary beef with this album. There’s solid production throughout, but it’s just not that much different from Tri-State. From the guys who delivered a killer debut album that was as probably as good as it could get, five years later, you might expect something a little more cutting edge, a little forward thinking.

And there’s lots of vocals. Johnston and Bedford come back for more and more, which is well-pitched for fans of the vocal style of trance. But is this really what Above & Beyond has become? All in all, it makes for a good, safe, and predictable release. It will sell shit-loads, and their gigs will sell out, so I guess that makes it a success.

Group Therapy is out now on through Central Station Records.