Any project involving super-producer Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton comes with a certain amount of expectation. His partnership with The Shins’ singer James Mercer was no different, but unfortunately their first album as Broken Bells back in 2010 failed to live up to the hype. It wasn’t a bad album, but it wasn’t exactly a stand out moment either.
Four years on and the dynamic duo have joined forces again under the Broken Bells banner, and the early signs for follow-up album After The Disco were very promising. The title track and the lead single ‘Holding On For Life’ were both revealed late last year and both sounded amazing. Their marrying of Bee Gees-esque disco-funk and modern electro may have been gazumped by Daft Punk last year, but with these two songs Broken Bells definitely have the upper hand when it comes to adding soul and emotion into that mix.
‘After The Disco’ stream:
‘Holding On For Life’ stream:
As is often the case, the album doesn’t get any better than those two exhilarating single releases – but it does represent a big improvement on their debut.
This improvement is driven mainly by After The Disco being much more pop-oriented than its predecessor, with sweet melodies and ear-catching hooks littered throughout the album. ‘The Changing Lights’, ‘Control’, ‘Medicine’ and ‘No Matter What You’re Told’ are all pretty decent indie-pop ballad type songs that make great use of James Mercer’s affecting falsetto.
The drawback is that they all sound a bit samey. For fans of bittersweet grown-up indie with excellent production values then After The Disco will go down a treat. For others, the albums frequent re-use of the same ideas and lyrical themes might start to jar after a while.
Luckily there’s a few diversions from the main formula that help keep After The Disco interesting towards its tail-end. ‘Lazy Wonderland’ is a nice indie-folk tangent that builds into a strong pop chorus, and ‘The Angel And The Fool’ takes a little of Gorillaz’ lo-fi leanings and adds in a bit of Led Zep-style 70’s po-faced prog spiritualism to good effect, surprisingly.
The album finishes with the grandiose ‘The Remains Of Rock & Roll’, which features sweeping Hollywood strings (think Lana Del Rey if she had any class) and yet another strong chorus.
In focusing more on pop hooks and sumptuous production Broken Bells have infinitely improved on their debut album with After The Disco. It’s a bit of a shame they played it safe and stuck to a strict formula rather than explore a few other interesting directions, but in doing so they have at least created a few very, very good pop songs.