What to do with Â£10 of Woolworths vouchers. This was the question I was faced with last Christmas. I had just built myself up for the novelty factor of buying Â£10 worth of Pick'n'Mix when my eye was caught by the Guillemots debut album Through the Window Pane. The last minute change of plan was a masterstroke and there have been few moments over the past year when .Window Pane has been far from my CD player. It was, therefore, to a scream of childlike excitement that a copy of Red, the sophomore album, plopped through my letterbox and instantly succeeded its ancestor on the wheels of steel.
And what a follow up it is. Where .Window Pane eases you in with the beautiful, yet gentle 'Little Bear', Red grabs you by the throat from the first bar of anthemic opener 'Kriss Kross', an assertive flow of orchestral stabs that wouldn't sound out of place opening a Bond movie, Red sets out with confidence and it has a lot to be confident about. The emphasis has shifted from the lush orchestration of the debut album to a more electronic sound, but that's not to say that it is absent completely, the rich arrangements that are a signature of the Guillemots sound are still present but this album is decidedly more dance floor than orchestra pit. We follow up with equally energetic but slightly sleazier 'Big Dog' before the welcome respite of the albums first ballad, 'Falling out of Reach', a dreamy wash of acoustic guitars and ethereal harmonies.
As well as more confidence, Red also showcases a growing pool of influences, the Eastern twinges of 'Clarion' (the stand out track in my opinion) adding spice while hints of Elton John add a subtle retro twist without straying into Scissor Sisters territory. If I had to struggle to find fault then it would be that Red gives you too much of what you want; whereas tracks such as 'Made Up Lovesong #43' from .Window Pane finish all too early leaving you crying out for another verse, the tracks here are all finely crafted into perfect pop nuggets, but this is criticism for criticism's sake.
The quality of Guillemots' debut was acknowledged with a nomination for the Mercury Music prize, Red is even better. Difficult second album? Not here, roll on number 3.