The year of the sophomore album (and the pig, incidentally) notches another entry with The Sun and the Moon, album number two by NYC quintet the Bravery. So far, the predominant theme for 2007 follow-ups has been a rejection of fun in favor of an attempt to appear more serious. Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City found them scoring so far off the charts on the Heartfelt & Earnest Scale that the record became tedious; Kaiser Chiefs cast aside their rousing nonsense syllables and tried on some thornier melodies, which left them looking more stubborn than creative. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, meanwhile… actually, I don’t know what the hell happened there, but it sure was a big ol’ mess.
Now that I’ve reminded you how generally poorly most bands in the Bravery’s peer group have faired on their second albums, you’ll be delighted to know that The Sun and the Moon isn’t a huge disappointment. It’s only a small disappointment because their debut was so darn good. The main cause of this slight slippage is the same reason that their cohorts also stumbled. Yes, the Bravery have bought into their own act, believing that, just because they wear lots of black, they should start getting mopey. Sure, singer Sam Endicott sounds a bit like Robert Smith, but hat’s no reason to follow in his gloomy footsteps. Sam also sounds a lot like Simon LeBon, and the Bravery fair best when they shoot laser beams of Durany grandeur through their gothy gauze.
After a brief “Intro”, the band kick into full new romantic mode with “Believe”. Granted, there’s a fine line between melodrama and failed attempts at true drama, but I think Endicott isn’t aiming for an Oscar when he sings, “Waiting for our ship but our ship’s not coming back”. And just the title “Every Word Is a Knife in My Ear” begs to be viewed as soap opera, not slip-shod Shakespeare. I mean, c’mon: “Like a snake in a suit spitting into the air”? Sam, you must be winking when you sing that line. The delectable lead single, “Time Won’t Let Me Go”, has a huge Cars-like keyboard lick, a poppy “bah-bah” break, and soft-core regrets like “I Never Had a Summer of ‘69”. That’s not meant to be a devastating bummer, right? Nah, didn’t think so.
A cut like “This Is Not the End”, however, calls into doubt this supposition of an ironic tone. The song begins on the right note, with stabs of guitar lifted straight off “London Calling”. But then it quickly morphs into sweeping synth strings and, oh no, the drippings of sincerity. The song is an anthem against the trappings of this mortal coil, a promise to defy time and the physical world. Endicott is careful to remind us, though, that he is “not a scientist”, so maybe he’s just not aware that his angst-fueled pledges are all in vain.
You know what, though? Even as I busily point out the ways in which that song is kind of ridiculous, I have to admit that I actually like it. That’s the thing about the Bravery: They are a guilty pleasure band. And I don’t generally subscribe to the notion of guilty pleasures, either. Why feel ashamed about liking, for example, Britney Speares? An entire industry was built around eliciting that response, and no one was trying to be sly about it, either. The Bravery, on the other hand, are a major label wolf in sheepish indie rock clothing. I’d like to rebel against the hypnotic gaze of the beast, but, darn it, I am hungry like that wolf. I actually want a more readily digestible version of the gritty, bitter pill that “real” indie rock so often offers. Sometimes I don’t feel like standing under the rain cloud of, say, TV on the Radio in order to slake my thirst. I just want to hear music that lives somewhere in the vicinity of cool and manages to remind me of better and more difficult music, all while making me bop my head and tap my feet. Sure, it’s just musical junk food, but it’s oh so yummy.
So, when the Bravery actually try to get deep and serious, they tend to betray their strengths and maybe their audience, as well. The string quartet on closing song “The Ocean” results in saccharine, when the group were probably hoping for cinematic. The one instance where the band “get real” and manage to get it right is “Tragedy Bound”. Aside from the iffy title, this downcast and acoustic track is a stark and riveting portrait of a girl who suffered from her father’s abuse (likely sexual) and is now so numb that she is “cutting herself”, and “can’t even care enough to f**k”. The band were smart to leave the mix unadorned and let the sad song speak for itself.
It’s an affecting cut, but one that’s seemingly out of place on a record that mostly teeters between fun bouts of post-disco post-post-punk new wavy pop and overcooked near-emo ennui. What almost every track possesses, though, is a catchy melody. The group’s first album had hooks in abundance, and they are only slightly less plentiful here. These hooks are the source of the pleasure, while Endicott’s sometimes questionable lyrics give us our feelings of guilt for being drawn in, in spite of ourselves. Having to endure a few lines of bad poetry, however, is the penance we will suffer gladly enough for the sin of indulging in the Bravery’s sophomore album, The Sun and the Moon.