It goes without saying that England’s country music scene is only really just finding its feet, with the genre having primarily been relegated to Nashville despite having a degree of popularity in the UK. Considering this, Ward Thomas’ claim that they are Britain’s biggest country stars might not be untrue. Their previous two albums peaked at Number 1 on the UK country charts with their second album, Cartwheels, reaching the top spot on the UK official albums chart in 2016.
Ward Thomas’ claim that they are Britain’s biggest country stars might not be untrue
Indeed, previous albums have seen Hampshire twins Lizzy and Catherine Ward Thomas gradually drift from the binds of straight country into more pop-influenced avenues, much like Taylor Swift. Restless Minds sees them utilise their brand of slick country pop and clever song-writing, but it looks more outward regarding what country pop can be: there are flickers of 808 drums and reverb as well as moments steeped in a simpler folk, all accentuating punchy and melodramatic country music.
From its opener, ‘No Filter’, we are pulled into the restless minds of Ward Thomas. It opens with 808 drums and the remnants of piano chords as they sing of being “dressed to the nines, we’re stressed out but fine, go out every night” and “lost in the dark”; it’s a gritty but glitzy image of disillusionment that is only strengthened as the duo harmonise that “I re-position my hands, my hair, my cheek/ so you might listen to me”. But this image of helplessness is shattered by the sledgehammer of a chorus which posits a world of honesty where you didn’t need a “filter”. It is certainly a grand way to start the album, and it is positively restless.
From the opener we are pulled into the restless minds of Ward Thomas
This continues in ‘Lie Like Me’ which sees the girls discuss the lies of a “picture perfect” life as they show us “another sunrise, here’s another good time, and here’s my outfit of the week” – arguably listing all these so called perfect moments but instead positing that something deeper is going on underneath, much like ‘No Filter’. Sonically, ‘Lie Like Me’ is Ward Thomas reworking Taylor Swift’s ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ but with less interesting dance influences. Every time they edge towards branching out of country pop they step back into their comfort zone.
Every time they edge towards branching out of country pop they step back into their comfort zone
Both ‘One More Goodbye’ and ‘It’s Not Just Me’ feel a little more down to earth, instead focusing on the difficulties of relationships – especially when one party is constantly on the move and, well, restless.
‘Rather Be Breathing’ makes an attempt to be more interesting. While having an acoustic guitar at its heart, it is shrouded with wisps of jarring layers, for the most part. But the strange whistling sounds, heard between repetitions of the phrase “I’d rather be breathing”, do nothing to take the edge off the thick wall of country pop. Instead they feel quite grating.
‘Rather Be Breathing’ is shrouded with wisps of jarring layers
It is arguable that the album slows down towards its final act. ‘Changing’ feels aged, like a pause in the midst of Restless Minds’ hurry. A clear attempt at grounding the album. But with four songs between this and the final song, Ward Thomas’ music grows tiresome.
The final song, ‘This Too Will Pass’, feels like an attempt at a completed arc in comparison to the album’s theme of restlessness; it’s refreshingly stripped down and folky – arguably one of the best songs on the album with its satisfyingly light acoustic timbre and warped vocals. But it shouldn’t have taken 15 songs to get to this point.
It is clear that Ward Thomas are trying to portray the slowing down of restless minds. There is a cohesive progression from grand, glossy country pop into clear cut folk. And yet in spite of its super shiny production, Restless Minds feels highly basic; the themes covered in the 15 songs – the emphasis on disquietude and romantic troubles – feel samey. And at its core, there is nothing particularly new going on in Restless Mind.