Brothers Peter and Michael Champion, aka Champs have missed a trick by releasing their debut album as winter tips its hat and bids adiu: Down Like Gold is stuffed with the twinkling warmth of a Christmas record. Sure there’s not a red-red-robin to be found anywhere, bob-bob-bobbing or not, but there’s a definite December spirit floating over the whole thing. ‘Too Bright To Shine’ has some of the quiet grandeur of Frankie’s ‘The Power of Love’, a wonderfully low-key opening sounding at once sad and oddly majestic, like a once-posh seaside hotel left abandoned for a few seasons, while ‘Pretty Much (Since Last November)’ begins with a blanket of male choral voices, wrapping you in lovely christmassy warmth. Its central melody manifests via an “ooooooh” backing vocal resurfacing throughout, and would perfectly soundtrack a little boy stamping through the snow in a 1920s Dickens adaptation. There’s a lovely simplicity to it and Down Like Gold actually peaks here, two tracks in, though the brothers’ close harmonies and doubled voices ensure there’s a flavour of this warmth throughout.
There are problems though. Champs form the centre of a venn diagram between the early hits of Keane and the more overtly emotive sound of Manchester’s Hurts, lacking the everyman accessibility of the former or the flash and drama of the latter. At several points, especially during the closing third Down Like Gold threatens to tip in one or the other direction, as on ‘I C Sky’ with its chilly simplicity hinting at something darker and bolder, or ‘My Spirit Is Broken’ which has poppier aspirations sadly unfulfilled. Both are hindered by an overly stripped down approach when what’s required is a broadening of the tonal palette- for all its homely loveliness there’s not quite enough ideas spread across these ten songs for Down Like Gold to really fulfil its promise.
That said, there’s a strong melodic instinct at play here that shows itself in flashes of toothpaste-smile pop, notably on ‘Savannah’ where another twinkly advent-crown intro gives way to a likeable charmer gift-wrapped for the Radio 2 playlist, and while that may not be a road everyone will be happy to travel, at the very least it shows a sense of sonic purpose missing on a record guilty of being a little bit wishy-washy in its likability- often not quite as vulnerable nor as confident as it needs to be, occupying a safe-zone middle ground that’s maddening in its inability to commit to a cause.
A warm and personable record then, but one that doesn’t put its head above the parapet often enough to properly engage. There’s certainly promise and skill here, but like the Christmas music it echoes you’ll rarely give it much thought once its season has passed.
6Marc Burrows's Score