Since the release of Return To The Sea, Islands have both slashed and expanded their ranks. Key songwriter Jaime Thompson (who along with Nick Thorburn was one of the key contributors to both the Islands, and in The Unicorns) left the band, but Thorburn was joined by several new musicians and soldiered on, creating another dizzying album of dense rock songs that moves in a little bit different direction than their debut.
That's bound to be expected considering Thompson's departure, and it might not be so apparent for the first five songs of the release or so. "The Arm" kicks things off in epic fashion, as it sweeps forward with an orchestral rock flourish, backed with dramatic strings and piano. There are plenty of hooks, but they're strung together somewhat tenuously in places, and it runs a bit overlong at nearly six minutes. "Pieces Of You" and "J'aime Vous Voire Quitter" move in much the same direction, as largely guitar-driven tracks rock forward with intense energy why the vocals of Thorburn take on their usual fascination with death and mortality. About halfway through the latter, the group drops off into a weird little bridge of tropics-sounding music that's closer to their first release, but it's gone in a flash.
Chugging along with programmed beats, "Creeper" again sounds like the group is going to break from their ways again, but it's largely another straightforward piece that's largely guitar-driven as hints of synth and strings swoop in the background. And really, that's the big difference between the two albums from the group. Whereas Return To The Sea, had tons of whimsical and seriously unexpected points, In Arms Way feels much more understated and simply predictable. The instrumentation is more lush this time out, but the more straight rock leanings (when they dipped into everything from calypso to hip hop on their previous album) simply lose their impact after awhile.
Closing in on seventy minutes in length, the twelve songs here simply outstay their welcome at times (and in places, like on the amazing ending of "In The Rushes," even hang their best moments at the end of more laborious passages). Of course, the album closer of "Vertigo (If It's a Crime)" runs over eleven minutes, and it's just the right amount of creeping dread, rock pomp, and weird atmospherics, so there's certainly some great parts broiling through the surface here. Considering at least part of the groups charm was their ability to surprise, there's simply not enough of that here as a whole, and In Arm's Way suffers because of it.