Thursday, October 18, 2018

Review of Chvrches "Love Is Dead"

I just posted this on the Sputnik Music site, to what I'm sure will be universally positive vibes (heh heh):

Review Summary: In defense of pop.

In the world of Sputnik Music, Chvrches' new album Love Is Dead has been judged and found guilty -- guilty of "bland"ness, of "predictability", and of "repetitive"ness. The two reviews listed on the site so far rate it at 2 stars and 1½ stars respectively. But beauty is in the ear of the beholder. A quick perusal of opinions outside of the Sputiverse reveals that opinions on the LP have been a bit more varied. Sites such as Pitchfork and Slant Magazine basically agree with the previous Sputnik reviewers that the album is boring and derivative. However, other (primarily British, for some reason) publications, such as NME and The Independent have given the Scottish electropop trio's latest effort glowing reviews, with The Independent even awarding it a perfect 5-star rating. The album reached the #1 position in both the Billboard Top Alternative Albums and Top Rock Albums charts, and was #11 on the Billboard 200 chart. It also reached a very respectable #7 on the UK albums chart. I'm not trying to invalidate the opinions expressed in the earlier reviews of Love on this site. I'm just saying there's another side to the story.

I go through a fairly rigorous process for the new albums I review (or even listen too. I'm more than a little obsessive compulsive). I usually start with the CD out in my car for awhile (yeah, I buy CDs. What of it?), where I play it at least three or four times while I'm driving around living my life. Then, I take it inside, and give it another, closer, three or four listens, as I try to evaluate where it stands in relation to other albums released during the current year. For Love Is Dead, I wasn't particularly impressed with the LP during that first set of plays. I've been a casual fan of Chvrches over the years, and I always liked their basic sound. But nothing here really jumped out at me. Then, a funny thing happened as soon as I took it inside and started listening more closely. I fell in love with this album.

Love Is Dead is Chvrches' most consistent album to date. They've always had a few good songs on each release, but I never felt that they put it all together before. This LP, however, is a turning point for them. Lauren Mayberry's voice has never been brighter, and they've never before turned out such a large group of easily accessible tunes.

Here's where I think they're losing some people, and especially some critics. Love Is Dead is by far their most mainstream album to date. Prior to this, they were a quirky little band of the type that could fill small clubs, and open effectively for older and more experienced indie rock acts. It was kind of cool to like them. Love suddenly takes them to the level of a headliner. In Mayberry's own words, the album "is the most pop stuff we've ever done," and not everybody is OK with that.

The other thing that can be a little off-putting on first listen is the speed of the songs. Almost everything on Love Is Dead is either slow- or mid-tempo -- the first hint of anything that's even a little faster doesn't come until the album's fifth song, "Forever". Consequently, if you're giving it a quick listen or two, it's easy to see how everything can blend together. After a few hearings, though, the songs start to become more distinct. And suddenly, songs like "Graffiti", "Wonderland" and "My Enemy" start jumping out at you as some of the best stuff this band has ever done. (That's how it worked for me, anyway.)

Obviously, if you're not a fan of Chvrches' brand of synthpop with ethereal female vocals, you're probably not going to care for Love Is Dead. But if you're open to that style of music, I'd suggest you check it out, and also that you give the LP a chance to grow on you. Maybe you'll still wind up in the I-hate-this-album camp. But there are plenty of us who are hearing this a whole different way. As of right now, Love Is Dead has become my favorite release of 2018.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars