Broken Bells – After the Disco

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Lead single “Holding On for Life” sucks. Well, there’s some good stuff: myself, and I imagine tons of others who deliver nicotine into their bodies despite the massive warning signs on the boxes they come in and despite the fact that it’s averaging -10 degrees Celsius outside (in Toronto, anyway), can appreciate a line like “Light another cigarette, burning in the cold.” I also like the pre-chorused, “What a lovely day to be lonely” because you can tell (or hope, anyway) that it’s meant to be sarcastic. But then it launches into a lifeless chorus that’s all falsetto (and thus, tuneless too) (the Bee Gees is not a good inspiration well, guys) with some terrible lyrics – obviously, “Holding on for life” needs to be followed by “Holding on for love.” Who didn’t see that one coming?

Not that the rest of the album’s much better. I’m utterly shocked by how conventional (synonymous to safe, which is synonymous toundangerous) Danger Mouse sounds here. Recall that the man had built himself quite the resume throughout the 00s, and though every publication feels like it’s a necessity to keep bringing up The Grey Album despite the fact that he’s done nothing remotely similar in the decade since, I remember him fondly for bringing a modern edge to the table, no matter whose project he was helping with. On After the Disco? You’re going to hear a lot of backing vocals that do nothing but harmonize to bring the chorus out (“Leave It Alone” – no reason that thing deserved to be 5 minutes) or else repeating every previous line in an effort to bring the chorus out (“Lazy Wonderland” – and what was the point of them?). You’re also going to hear some cheesy horns (“Control”) and a lot of synthesized strings that don’t even pretend to be anything more (in most of these songs, but the worst offender is “The Remains of Rock & Roll” – what a fucking title and fucking lyrics to go with) that could’ve all come from a preset function on a keyboard from Walmart for all I knew. Not that I’m expecting much anyway, but I’m kind of worried about how much he’ll give U2 later this year.

I’m not saying it’s all bad. You can add “After the Disco” to your Broken Bells playlist containing “High Road” and “Ghost Inside,” equipped with the album’s best vocal hook and a great bassline that gives me some incentive to put it on at the after-party like its title suggests. But wherever there’s goodness to be found elsewhere, it’s only seen in glimpses. Opener “Perfect World” has a decent synth hook, but everyone involved should be shot for thinking that that two-minute outro was worth hearing (especially bothersome considering the preceding guitar solo faded out which makes the whole thing seem even more tacked on). ”The Changing Lights” is a decent rhythm-propelled number (which means there’s a lack of melody) and … “No Matter What We’re Told” has a nice melody in its chorus, I s’pose. Meanwhile, I like the twinkly percussion of “Lazy Wonderland” – this is exactly what I want from Danger Mouse – before it reveals that after he picked out which sounds he wanted, he would just let them play on loop for the rest of the song (lazy indeed). “The Angel and the Fool” is a nice slice of folktronica before strings come in and turn it into a glossy dollop. And the back-and-forth motif on “Control” (most audible at the 1:54 mark onwards) is frankly the album’s best idea, which makes me forgive the horns that come in later.

Their debut album, itself flawed, managed to move an impressive 700,000 copies – 700,000! After the Disco sounds like an obligationthat both artists felt they needed to fulfill, so they got together and did it and because they did, they feel it’s necessary to charge concert tickets at $42 a pop – $42! Remember James Mercer and Danger Mouse’s first collaboration, “Insane Lullaby, which displayed James Mercer’s melodic strengths over Danger Mouse’s psychedelic prowess?” I do. It’s a shame they don’t.

C+

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