When The Office‘s Ricky Gervais accepted his second award at the 2004 Golden Globes ceremony, he cleverly expressed the need for two trophies, so that they might serve as handsome bookends. In his ever-comedic fashion, he may have even said a thing or two further about the importance of bookends in the home, to remind the viewing audience that a set of anything, on both sides of anything, is essential. The Bigger Lovers clearly recognize the importance of bookends, as the smash hits on their third full length are sandwiched between two superbly crafted very handsome bookends.
This Affair Never Happened… And Here are Eleven Songs About It may qualify as the most intriguing album title to come along in decades, but the Philadelphia four piece pop outfit has never been short on wit. Now in their sixth year, the Bigger Lovers have managed to significantly “wow” onlookers at the South by Southwest Festival, readers of CMJ and Billboard, as well as the lesser-known Rolling Stone Magazine. After disastrous luck with the label that hosted the band’s first LP How I Learned to Stop Worrying, the Bigger Lovers earned rave live reviews as well as praise from the folks who were finally able to scoop up a copy of the heavily-delayed record. The Yep Roc Label of North Carolina added the band to their roster for their next effort, Honey in the Hive, which, like their debut, boasts incredible songwriting skills and an otherworldly aptitude for complex harmony and melody. While both previous jewels are equally diverse in sound, the band’s love of Big Star and the Who is still evident on This Affair Never Happened as the Bigger Lovers score huge with yet another wonderful recording.
Bassist and songwriter Scott Jefferson takes an early lead with “You (You, You)”, an introspective look at a love gone sour. His vocals speak of profound hurt here, but the first track’s likable melody is just too sweet for it to be a bitter, angry song. There’s a hint of Loaded in this one, as Ed Hogarty’s shrilling lead guitar follows the rhetorical bridge: “A lack of history is what keeps me alive / Be it far from me to ask me why”. It’s immediately obvious that this one will eventually break into hysteric harmony, just as both leadoffs “Half Richard’s” and “Catch and Release” have done on records previous. Jefferson’s melodies are constant and are complemented well by Spectoresque drum breaks and heavenly backups. These Bigger Lovers signature backups are everywhere on This Affair, and their flair for memorable choruses go not a moment unnoticed. Each selection bears a sort of rock “sneak attack” strategy. Perhaps this is why the album’s cover is adorned with the sly carnivorous praying mantis: a meat-eating beast but notoriously considered blessed and holy by some folks. The album’s other and necessary bookend is both sneaky and reverent but fortunately has little to do with cannibalistic insects.
“For Christ’s Sake” is yet another gleaming notch in singer/guitarist Brett Tobias’ catalog. He has fittingly provided the indie pop world with a holiday backdrop for roasting chestnuts and knocking over snowmen. What begins as an admirable nod to Otis Redding in arpeggiated guitar and sluggish drums concludes as a saintly hymn to be played in no church. Ever.
He uses the Alaskan cold that Pennsylvania has seen most recently in a humorous analogy to describe the all-too-familiar holiday love longing: “This time of year / Our frozen paradise / It sticks to my mind / Like goddamned head lice”. He’s as miserable as John Lennon, desperately propositioning a fled flower to come back to him “For Christ’s Sake”. Tobias draws on our inability to function socially or psychologically without our lover ‘round December 25th: “I haven’t done anything / Since you’ve been gone / And these endless nights / Seem even more long”. Not only do the Bigger Lovers deliver again with a consistently splendid album, but they also offer a pleasant holiday alternative to that dreadful overplayed Paul McCartney / Casio collaboration.