Monday, March 3, 2014

Album Review: Broken Bells – After The Disco (2014)

When James Mercer (of The Shins) and uber-producer Danger Mouse collaborated as Broken Bells back in 2010 they made an album that ultimately came across as being very “safe”. It was pleasant enough in a lightweight psych-meets-indie pop kind of way, but I was left with the feeling the duo was – on paper at least – capable of so much more.

I enjoyed the album at the time, but given its heavyweight credentials, let’s just say I was more excited about the collaboration, and the prospect of further outings, than I was about the work-in-progress feel of the debut.

Four years on, with the release of album number two, After The Disco, it appears that not a lot has changed. Again the first word that pops into my head when listening to After The Disco is “safe”.

I’m not sure why that should be, because if past form and previous work under different (separate) guises is any guide, this pair bring plenty to the table, and not much of it could be said to be risk averse.

Mercer has a keen ear for great hooks and melodic pop music, that much has always been apparent, while Danger Mouse’s CV (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz, next stop U2 or Frank Ocean) speaks for itself.

So what’s missing on After The Disco?

Well, nothing really … except for any real sense of adventure or any genuine spark.

There’s not a lot wrong with any of these songs, some are perfectly crafted pop gems, it’s just that so many of them are so damned formulaic as to render them largely superfluous.

It’s not hard to imagine what the duo was trying to achieve … a sort of post-Random Access Memories comedown album, incorporating synthpop and catchy bass-driven grooves perhaps?
But where only the very worst segments of Daft Punk’s disco-reviving opus veer toward moments of parody, far too much of After The Disco crosses the line, including some of the best bits – I’m not sure whether to laugh at the Barry Gibb-aping ‘Holding On For Life’ or whether I’m supposed to try not to cringe and just go with it …

I dunno, I guess I wanted and expected a little more. Something better than this offering. With the knowledge that these guys are capable of it.

This is inoffensive catchy pop music, and that’s fine, but if that’s the extent of Broken Bells’ collective ambition, then I probably won’t bother too much in future. And for all that I know I probably need to revisit it a few more times yet, this feels like pretty uninspired fare to me.

Here’s ‘Holding On For Life’ ...



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