The Big Pink: A History of Love

[13 October 2009]

By Saxon Baird

Everything about the Big Pink screams imitation. From the name—a reference to the seminal debut album by Canadian rockers the Band (no, its not a coincidence check the name of their website)—to the cover art (The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, maybe?), to their psychedelic-shoegaze sound, everything is in someway a rather obvious gesture to some renowned rock act or album of the past. This isn’t an erroneous decision, necessarily. After all, it’s probably better that a group’s music is at least partially rooted in some of the greats than in the unknown and never-was.

Despite this trend of imitation, the Big Pink’s debut full-length A Brief History of Love is a collection highly accessible dreamy pop tunes that blend ‘90s shoegaze with intricate electronic arrangements that largely exhibit this duo’s striking song-writing dexterity—even if you feel you’ve heard all these songs before. Balancing between total imitation and building upon what has been done is a tricky act, though, and proves to be both the Big Pink’s greatest strength and biggest misstep.

The extent of the Big Pink’s creative ability to create densely layered tracks of well-produced noisy pop may be best represented in “Velvet”, the first single off A Brief History of Love. Unlike many of the other tracks, which build off big, steady drums and an all-out wall of squealing guitars, effects, and pedals, “Velvet” abandons the Big Pink’s nods to early ‘90s shoegaze acts and replaces it with immense waves of harsh ambient haze and scraping, industrial-lite drum machine. Through all the discordance, the composed vocals act as the glue that holds the song together as the duo delicately regulates the expansive intensity of the backing soundscape. “Velvet” is highly accessible at moments, but remains emotionally intimate and exhibits the duo’s maturity as songwriters. 

This is not the case with “Dominos”. Much like the girls who “fall like dominos” in the track’s lyrics, this radio-ready song falls for all the old tricks of a catchy pop song. Without a doubt, this will get into your head and stay there for the remainder of the week. Will it get you pressing repeat, though? Maybe. Despite its ridiculously catchy chorus, there is something about “Dominos” that is just too familiar, and with all the intricacies on their debut album, comes off as stale and cliché. There is nothing wrong with a good pop tune, but in an age of high accessibility to an endless array of various types of music,“Dominos” is a weak and lazy attempt at grabbing the listener’s attention—especially compared to the other melodic nuances of the album.

For all the heavily-layered, sweepingly-epic pop numbers full of My Bloody Valentine guitar overload and musical worshiping of the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, there are quieter numbers to balance the immense rock density found elsewhere on A Brief History of Love.  Songs such as “At War with the Sun”, “Love in Vain”, and the album’s title track are pure ‘80s UK rock that show the duo has studied fellow British staples Echo and the Bunnymen and the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands closely. These tracks are the most intimate and minimal affairs off the album. Their languid spaciousness filled by solitary tambourine and tame, weepy guitar lines are welcome changes from the upbeat tempo full of the latest production tricks found elsewhere.

At moments, A Brief History of Love shines like a record that could be put on “repeat” for a long time to come. At other moments it fails to rise above its predecessors to generate anything truly memorable. Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell are undeniably seasoned songwriters who have set out to make a record that takes a well-worn sound, update it, and make it fun and approachable again. To their credit, for the most part they succeed at this attempt. However, with all the slick production and precise coating of perfectly placed layers of sound, it sometimes comes off sounding a bit too cold and artificial. The punch in their rock often goes missing, and even at its most chaotic, it feels forced and fully under control. This makes for a solid and sporadically impressive debut that next time could maybe stand to step out of the studio and let the raw force of their music stand on its own.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/112427-the-big-pink-a-history-of-love/