Any band can have their disagreements and any band situation can test a relationship, so being in a band with your spouse must be challenging, to say the least. The making of Rainbow Arabia’s third album, L.A. Heartbreak is a testament to the trials and tribulations of working together as a couple. Not only is this their third album and follow-up to 2014’s FM Sushi but the duo have also somehow found the time to start their own record label (the suitably left-field electronic label “Time No Place”). Understandably, this placed further strain on their relationship, further exacerbated by the recording sessions for their third album. Eventually, after realizing their relationship was beginning to fracture, they abandoned these sessions and decided to start afresh. The idea being to create something more immediate and sincere.
Musically, this has translated into an album that places more of an emphasis on the more mainstream pop music of the 1980s rather than continue the more experimental, krautrock influences of Sushi FM. The dark, glitchiness of that album has given way to something altogether shinier and Day-Glo Similarly, the Arabian influences that were so prominent on their debut have been almost completely expunged, leaving a bright and airy electro-pop album.
The whole album has a bright, almost neon sheen to it. At times the incessant perkiness can become a little wearing, like drinking too many sickly sweet, gaudy Pina Coladas on a sunny beach. However, on repeat listens it becomes clear that under the glossy and polished exterior lies a very personal and conciliatory album that attempts to patch up any differences in the duo’s personal life. Many of the lyrics allude to the tension in the duo’s marriage caused by working so closely together, giving the whole thing an air of catharsis.
With that in mind, this is not a dark album. The songs aim to be as catchy and concise as possible. The music may be shinier but that has allowed the hooks to really shine through. It helps that, lead singer Tiffany Preston, knows her way around a melody. While her early style was reminiscent of the Knife’s Karin Dreijer, here she seems to have more confidence in her voice. Her vocals are fresh and clean with none of the grit or quirks of Rainbow Arabia’s previous work. Her singing style is essential to the album with many of the songs reliant on her vocal hooks and melodies.
“Modern Contemporary” sets the tone for the album from the outset. It’s awash with splashes of bright synths and light percussion. Preston’s breathless lyrics demonstrate her range as she shifts from deeper, sultry tones to a higher pitch with ease. “Followed” begins like a strange mix of Cyndi Lauper and Han Zimmer’s work on the True Romance soundtrack. It has a beautiful see-saw vocal hook that stays lodged in your brain. If there was any justice in the world, then “Plena” would be the pop crossover mega-hit it deserves to be. The chorus of “I’m so in love with you / Tell me what you want me to do / I really want you” is as catchy as pop music gets. The band also finds space to incorporate some subtle Arabian influence with the percussion, harking back to their debut album Boys and Diamonds. “Top-Hat” opens with the subtle pitter-patter of beats sounding like cracks of distant thunder, before giving way to a rush of chiming synths. The song showcases the band’s clubbier, dancier roots with a house influenced outro. It’s a welcome diversion from the gleaming, neon synths and, in a way, it’s a bit of shame that this side of the band isn’t shown more on the album.
First single “I’m Over You” alludes to the difficulties of living and working together. Underpinned by a keyboard riff reminiscent of the mandolin intro from R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion”. Preston sings “All the things you wanted/ Did you want it for me?”. It’s another supremely catchy track replete with a soaring Tangerine Dream-esque keyboard bridge. The influence of electro bands like Tangerine Dream, OMD and ABC are also apparent on the closing songs “Computerized Romance” and “Juneau” which use more textured synths to create a shimmering and sparkling pop background for Preston’s vocals.
On first listen this may sound like a beautifully constructed but lightweight even insubstantial album. However, on repeat listens it’s clear just how well the whole album hangs together. By not launching from one style to another the band has crafted a more homogenized and relatable piece of work. At times a little more darkness and a little more danger would be welcome but there is no denying that this is a hook-filled, gleaming pop album that will embed itself in your brain.
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