[13 April 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Beware: there are no social workers on Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\, the second album from Scottish romantics Glasvegas. No obnoxious boozy fathers encourage their kids to fight, the Baltic fleet is not up anyone’s arse, and singer-songwriter James Allan no longer feels guilty about all the things he said to his Mum when he was ten years old. Pretty much anything that was unique or charming about Allan’s lyrics on 2008’s Glasvegas is gone. There’s even a troubling dearth of f-words.
In place of all that, we get big sweeping generalities, as though Allan is standing on top of a mountain, singing to the back row of THE WORLD. He stretches out his anthemic nothings to their breaking points: “The world is youuuuuuuuurs!” “Shine like staaaaaaaaars!” “Youuuuu! Youuuuu! Youuuuuuuuuuu!” (That last one’s an entire chorus.) These aren’t lyrics so much as marketing slogans for God knows what. Mountains, maybe, or the World Cup. The lead single, “Euphoria, Take My Hand”, seems to be selling an actual emotion.
But that’s what stadium bands do, right? And to their credit, much of Glasvegas’s new music sounds… I won’t say “great”, but it sure sounds “a lot”. New drummer Jonna Löfgren’s beats are way busier than Caroline McKay’s on the last album; McKay’s main inspiration seemed to be Phil Spector records. (That’s a compliment.) Lead guitarist and supportive cousin Rab Allan plays Edge-y helicopter riffs and strangled lead lines, and bassist Paul Donoghue locks into some nice grooves.
And then, around our modest power trio, somebody plays all this noise. There are echoing piano chords, swooping background vocals, layers and layers of ambient synths, squanking guitar figures that slide slowly into position, field recordings of howling mountain winds—it’s hard to tell what all’s in there, but the overall sound is huge. Who knows how much of this is the actual members of Glasvegas, and how much is superproducer Flood earning his fee? And who cares? A big sound is a big sound, and sometimes—like when “The World Is Yours” kicks in with an exploding depth charge—it makes Allan’s songs mysterious and exciting.
Unfortunately, Allan’s songs don’t give the sonics much to work with. Roughly half of Heartbreak is slow, ponderous, ambient, and/or recited by some French lady and/or Allan’s Mum. (She gives good advice, by the way.) It’s an album full of art moves without the art to back ‘em up. The seven minute “Lots Sometimes” mourns a failed relationship by ending each phrase with the song’s title: “I still think about you lots sometimes”, like that. Trouble is, “lots sometimes” is an awkward phrase to build a song around, let alone repeat 28 times in a row. And—back to the lyrical problem—Allan doesn’t do anything interesting lots sometimes. He spells her name in the stars at night, gets mad, feels lost, blah blah blah. This from a guy who once sang a song to a boat.
It’s disappointing that “Lost Sometimes” doesn’t work. Allan’s Scottish yodel is charming as fook, his fondness for minor three chords is touching, and there aren’t many other pop songs that accelerate throughout their running time, or even change tempo at all. Glasvegas is an ambitious band with an arsenal of likable idiosyncrasies. On Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\, they either pair those quirks with clumsy writing or, more often, pretend the quirks don’t exist. The resulting album smears together into one gigantic well-produced stadium anthem, shining like the night sky while remaining just as inert.