The follow-up full length Nude may put this right. Whilst still flaunting Jamie's peacock falsetto and full of pizzicato-driven panache that may put off the casual listener, Nude is much more immediately accessible and enjoyable, particularly on 'Tears', where synths and a programmed kickdrum give way to violin plucks and military percussion that masks the retreating fragility at the song's heart. A half nod to Smoky Robinson & The Miracles' 'Tears Of A Clown', it has the self-doubt and slow morph between verse and chorus of first-wave C86 bands such as The Field Mice and the glacial fragility of Talk Talk at their midpoint. It isn't the most obvious hit, but its translation to both dancefloors and discos is perhaps one that was lacking on Mirror Mirror.
However, its precedent, 'Tears Prelude', shows that an obscuration of their opulent serenity has been spared. It is a stunning work of introspective ambience as touching as any conjured by Stars Of The Lid, Eluvium and the like, with Jamie's vocals slowed almost to a stop, married to crystallised strings cradled deep in reverb, offering the cinematic epicness that M83 might have done on Before The Dawn Heals Us if they possessed the confidence and vision of their current incarnation.
Around this, Nude offers a closer sound to Mirror Mirror on 'Arrow' and the sublime 'Two Men In Love', calling to mind the unavoidable comparison to Antony & The Johnsons on their first release, yet even on here, like Antony Hegarty himself between his landmark I'm A Bird Now and most recent full length Swanlights, there is a definite sign of progress in the depth and width of the band's sound.
The problem, along with the awkward structuring of the album ('Arrow' is a perfect opener, 'Two Men In Love' a perfect closer but both find themselves in the middle third of the album) is that there is too little quantity to match the quality of Nude's highlights; with ten tracks of which two are interludes and one by name a prelude. Outside of these, 'To Be' floats by unnoticed, leaving around half an hour of music that truly captures the interest, something which could be forgiven on a début but leaves you feeling a little short changed on a sophomore effort. A shame, as at its peak, Nude is one of the year's strongest offerings but, particularly for an act with such obvious ambition, it is hindered by its brevity.
Most probably in the space of four minutes in fact. "When you were the age 15 I shot the arrow at you" opines McDermott on 'Arrow', Nude's priceless opening gambit. "Then you put that arrow in and became an angel too" he sighs wistfully, its delicate orchestral finale reminiscent of Wild Beasts at their most intricate. From that moment onwards Nude's is nothing less than addictive. While the haunting piano led 'New World' draws comparisons with Antony & The Johnsons, largely due to the way McDermott emphasises the most trivial of emotions to such devastating effect, the acoustic strains of 'To Be' and hi-energy precision dominating lead single 'Tears' exemplify Nude's diversity.
Unpredictable in a sense, yet heartfelt down to each and every last syllable, it's a multi-dimensional collection that reaches an unassailable climax in the final third courtesy of the grandiose three-songs-in-one 'Our World It Fell So Quietly' and lovelorn ballad 'Two Men In Love'. Welded together by the three-minutes long instrumental interlude 'Time Passing', those two compositions are well worth the entrance fee alone. "If I ask you will you be prince?" enquires McDermott on the latter, all softly spoken and gently played out then finally declaring "I'm in love!" at the song's (and Nude's) outset.
Significantly improving on its predecessor, Nude marks The Irrepressibles' arrival as serious contenders in a similar way to Patrick Wolf with The Magic Position or the aforementioned Wild Beasts and Two Dancers. Where they go next is anyone's guess, but it will surely be a bewitching, fulfilling experience finding out.