Chvrches' 'Love Is Dead' discusses heavy themes, but fails to deliver them meaningfully
The Glaswegian electro-pop trio discuss growing up, heartbreak, nostalgia, disillusionment and more on their third studio album 'Love Is Dead'
Chvrches have always been a big proponent of big synths and bigger hooks. Ever since the Glaswegian electro-pop trio broke onto the internet with their hit singles 'The Mother We Share' and 'Lies' over half a decade ago, they've always managed to use those synths and hooks to bridge the gap between the indie and the mainstream.
They did this by embracing the weird and the idiosyncratic and blending into layers of sugary pop. It's something they pulled off effectively on their 2013 debut 'The Bones of What You Believe' and almost perfected on their sophomore album, 2015's 'Every Eye Open.'
Once described as "a godless hurricane of kinetic pop energy", the trio, comprising Lauren Mayberry on vocals, and Iain Cook and Martin Doherty on synths, were made online superstars thanks to their idiosyncratic darkwave synth-pop and Mayberry's vivacious vocals that always landed a few feet away from the stereotypical pop bull's eye.
What made them stand out was their self-produced ethos and the bravery to embrace the weird while still managing to cram that weirdness into the parameters of pop. Unfortunately, these are the two things that they abandon on their latest release 'Love Is Dead'.
Looking for what I can only guess is more mainstream recognition, Chvrches brought in outside producers for the first time on their latest record, including Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia, Foo Fighters) and Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, the latter serving as a mentor.
They also broadened their pop brushstrokes, incorporating a lot of repetition, anthemic "whoa"s, EDM bass drops, sugary synths and hooks that start way too early into the song as best exemplified by the track 'Miracle' produced by Steve Mac. Standing out like a sore thumb in an otherwise passable pop album (but definitely not a passable Chvrches album), the song sets you up for a glorious crescendo with some promising musical arrangements, only to impulsively run into a bass drop that comes way too quick, followed by the most boring, formulaic pop frenzy ever seen on a Chvrches song.
There are some great redeeming tracks on the album too.
The album opener 'Graffiti', for instance, makes a grand entrance with Chvrches' typical synth blasts and follows it up with a wonderful, sprawling anthem that is only made so much sweeter as Mayberry sings about coming-of-age through nostalgic lyrics. "We wrote our names along the bathroom walls / Graffitiing our hearts across the stalls," she reminds us before dropping a gorgeous chorus.
"Do you really expect us to care what you're waiting for? / When you're high in your castle, keeping an eye on the door," Mayberry asks on the politically charged 'Graves', a song that discusses the disparity in society between the laymen and the political elites.
The chorus is set to be a chant fit for a revolution, but a twisted, happy revolution that sounds like Rage Against The Machine inhaled too much laughing gas! "You can look away while they're dancing on our graves / But I will stop at nothing / Oh, I will stop at nothing" sounds like a befitting Chvrches chorus for 2018.
“A lot of [the album is] about grappling with what’s going on in the world, but also what happens in your lives simultaneously,” Mayberry had said previously and that echoed perfectly on the track, but sadly not on the rest of the album.
The lead single 'My Enemy' is another track that stands out from the rest, featuring The National's Matt Berninger, whose distant, hypnotic vocals weave a delicious medley with Mayberry's high-pitched croon. But one would still expect something more spellbinding out of a Chvrches collaboration, considering the last time they teamed up with Paramore's Hayley Williams, they produced the near flawless pop breakout 'Bury It'.
If you were to pick out singles from the album, it would make for a nice evening playlist at a house party to get things going. But as an album, 'Love Is Dead' falls a few feet short of the finish line. Tracks like 'Never Say Die', 'Deliverance' and 'Forever' are so generically formulaic that they simply don't demand more than a one-time listen.
By the time you're through the first half of the album, you're left hoping desperately that something unconventional pops up, but Chvrches seek the safety of drowning their melodies in a saturated solution of sugary pop - so sugary that it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when you're through with the whole affair.
All said and done, 'Love Is Dead' is a brave attempt by the band, at least thematically. It talks about love, growing up, disillusionment, disappointment, heartbreak and the harsh realities of the world. But it does this without any specificity. There's no tact woven into the musical arrangements that carry the sentiments forth and touch your heart. Without that, it feels almost numb.
Having said that - except for a handful of good tracks - the album could arguably be chalked up as Chvrches' most impersonal album so far. One that refuses to take a deeper, darker riskier approach that the band is so loved and respected for.