There isn’t much that separates good electro from the rest of the drivel that passes for pop music in this century. For every Robyn or Lady Gaga, there are a hundred wannabes with one good track and a passable homemade YouTube clip to generate buzz. And then there’s the new Chvrches album, out today.
The Scottish trio Chvrches has stood out from the bland electro pack since its 2013 debut The Bones of What You Believe. Tracks such as “Lies” and “The Mother We Share,” though standard in composition, were executed with edge and passion (the band, up until now, has produced themselves). Both the debut and its follow-up, Every Open Eye, featured soaring highlights (“Clearest Blue” is a personal favorite), anchored by vocalist Lauren Mayberry’s cool observations and crystalline singing, yet the band suffered from inconsistency.
So this new Chvrches album — album three — like many bands great and unbearable before them, is make or break time, and the good news is that Love Is Dead is the group’s most solid offering yet. Produced, mostly, by Greg Kurstin in Los Angeles, the band is squarely in pop territory here, from the undeniable single “Miracle” (the only song here not produced by Kurstin, but by Steve Mac of Ed Sheeran fame) to the synth juggernaut “Graves.”
Multi-instrumentalists and co-composers Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, along with Mayberry, double-down on big pop choruses, while the lyrics skirt the sweet spot between open-hearted attachment and scathing emotional pain.
“We wanted to celebrate the two sides of the band,” Doherty has said, “the direct, poppy side of us and the darker, more twisted side of us. We wanted to bring them both into focus and see if they could live on the same record.”
To my ears, they do, though Kurstin has softened the contours of the band’s sound to such an extent that a taste-making music industry friend of mine found Love Is Dead boring. I hear where he’s coming from, though I prefer the uniformity of the songwriting as a full listening experience to great-songs-with-filler any day.
And I also get the sense that even the slightest of these tracks could become monolithic if they become hits. (Think of Madonna and “Borderline” here, a song that couldn’t get any traction until it just exploded.)
Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t the great Chvrches record we were all waiting for. It’s a very good one, and there is no shame in that. Yet whether you find Love Is Dead a bold mainstream move or boring AF, the band has our ear and, more importantly, our loyalty.
The new Chvrches album Love Is Dead is out today.
Featured image by Danny Clinch