Synth-pop New Yorkers stick to what they do best, resulting in a weird and wonderfully addictive album.
If there's one thing you wouldn't have banked on at the start of 2005, it's the Bravery falling by the wayside less than four years later -- in the UK at least. Back then, Sam Endicott and company were going head to head with the Killers, both in the charts (The Killers had crashed into the UK singles chart with their biggest hit to date, the re-issued "Somebody Told Me", shortly before the Bravery scored a respectable number 7 with "An Honest Mistake") and in the music press (Brandon Flowers and Endicott exchanged spats in a number of interviews).
While the Killers have gone on to become huge stars in multiple countries, changing the sound as well as their image with each album, the Bravery, despite an attempt at going for a rootsier sound on their sophomore effort, 2007’s The Sun and the Moon, appear to have moved on little from the synth-pop sounds they traded in back in 2005.
But, like contemporaries stellastarr*, it's a sound that suits them, so why fix it if it ain't broke? Much like their self-titled debut, for Stir the Blood the Bravery are wearing their hearts on their sleeves as clearly as their influences. So, once again Duran Duran choruses, New Order basslines and songs about messy love are the order of the day. All the attributes that had them compared to both the Strokes and the aforementioned Killers in their early days are still present. Indeed, they could be seen as a cross-pollination of the two and, it seems, they've almost cottoned on to what their greatest assets are. That is, songs that don’t care much for winding verses and pointless solos -- although there are one or two of those on the album -- but attempt to deliver soaring, pure pop choruses.
This works best on "I Am Your Skin", a song that could be accused of being a facsimile of high-watermark "An Honest Mistake", although this is hardly to its detriment. With a pleasingly addictive chorus and synths nicked off of Muse, it’s surely a contender for second single. Similarly, opener "Adored" and "Hatefuck" work just as well, the latter possibly featuring their most sadistic sexual imagery to date -- with Endicott asking ''love me mercilessly'' -- not to mention appropriately dirty guitars.
Things really get interesting, though, with "She’s So Bendable" and "Sugarpill". The former has clear echoes of both Soft Cell and the Velvet Underground, and it's a wonderfully-slow-paced interlude, but disappointingly only clocks in at around the two-minute mark, while "Sugarpill" sees Endicott drawling like Julian Casablancas over a fine bassline and a hypnotic guitar refrain.
If the first half of the album, with its stories of violent sex, lust and self-deprecation, suggests the Bravery's world is a weird, sordid place, side two delves even deeper. "The Spectator" appears to cast Endicott as a voyeuristic neighbour: you can almost imagine him, surrounded by Joy Division records and with Gary Numan posters plastered on his walls, getting his kicks from watching the girl next door getting undressed. And then there's the po-faced, dystopian "I Have Seen the Future" with lyrics transparent enough to suggest Endicott recently read Brave New World, and vocals that grate. It's one of the album’s few weak moments.
You can dismiss the Bravery as plagiarists, self-parodying, or for being out of step with current music trends, but when they play to their strengths its hard to deny they've a way with a synth-pop chorus. Ignore its shortcomings and Stir the Blood is a strangely addictive listen. While admittedly failing to match up to their self-titled debut, it makes a convincing case for not writing them off just yet.