[16 November 2011]
The Rifles’ first album, No Love Lost, sounded like a Mod revival, harking back to a tradition of British pop led by the Jam. On their third album, Freedom Run, this influence has taken a backseat, despite being recorded in the studio of the Jam’s frontman, Paul Weller. Instead, the influence is another tradition of British guitar music: Britpop. The jagged guitar riffs reminiscent of the 1970s have turned into a less aggressive, bright jangle. The vocals have similarly mellowed, from a Weller impersonation to doubled-tracked harmonies.
One cannot listen to Freedom Run for long before commenting on the vibe of the album. It is undoubtedly one of the happiest albums that I’ve heard this year. This is evident just by looking at titles of the songs that make up the album: “Dreamer”, “Sweetest Thing”, and “Tangled Up in Love” are just three examples. The perfect lyrical representation of this sweetness and bombast occurs in lead single “Tangled Up in Love”. Lead singer Joel Stoker sings, “I’d sail over the seven seas to get back to your door / You’re everything I need, everything and more.” This love-struck form of expression is not unique to this song; most of the Rifles’ songs speak of the same set of emotions. This is a different direction than that of the more forlorn sounds of the Rifles’ first two albums.
Yet, the premise that the Rifles set forth remains the same: they produce simple, catchy guitar-pop. “The Sweetest Thing” encapsulates everything on Freedom Run perfectly, from the song title to the chiming guitars and the sublime harmonies. But the standout track is “Tangled Up in Love”. The track is one of the best pure pop tracks of the year. The strings soar, the guitars jangle perfectly, and the harmonies are pitch-perfect. Most importantly, the key to the song is mood. It simply oozes happiness, a perfect summer pop song, albeit released in autumn.
The word that I keep repeating is “sweetness”. The other tracks add to this feeling: “Everline” adds handclaps and a harmonica, “Love Is a Key” is a rocker, “Falling” continues with sunny harmonies and ringing guitars. Each track is as syrupy as the last. All are well-crafted and well-executed pop, but this is also the fatal flaw of the album. The songs eventually start to sound the same. “Nothing Matters”, “Coming Home” and “I Get Low” seem interchangeable. Sonically there is nothing wrong with any of them, but together, it’s a sugar overload. “Little Boy Blue” is the most multifaceted of the tracks, as the band tries to work outside its comfort zone, but despite it’s complexity, it meanders and lingers for what feels like much longer than the six-minute running time.
Although Freedom Run is full of well-crafted guitar pop, the lack of variety in the sound prevents the album from reaching greater heights. None of the tracks are bad, but the album could still benefit from cutting down the runtime what feels like a long 45 minutes. Despite a lack of variety, the Rifles’ third album offers enough sugary-sweet and catchy guitar-pop to satisfy a certain craving. The Rifles have yet to product a bad record, but it is fair to say that they haven’t progressed with their songwriting, either. Each album has done one style well, but they have still yet to put it all together. It is yet to be seen if they can do so.