The Los Angeles quintet settles for a mixed bag of goods on their debut album. Or perhaps a mixed bag of bads is more applicable?
With a name that could imply the peaceful bonding of 1960s flower children or also the drastically absurd (perverted?) idea of an Eyes Wide Shut-style orgy, Grouplove give the impression either way that they’re a sensual band with flair for the over-the-top. Except, unlike the kinds of people who attend masked balls literally ending in a cluster fuck, these guys don’t incline that they’re at all interested in setting a mood for arousal or animalistic sex. Rather, the five Angelenos more-so display the work of close friends tinkering on instruments in a garage and seeing what they can come up with…which unfortunately is also an ethic that doesn’t quite work in their favor.
On their debut record, Never Trust a Happy Song, Grouplove’s title shines surprisingly clear, though not for their probable intentions. An inexplicable warning not to judge a song’s meaning by its sound, the irony seeps in how all 12 tracks become more and more boring with each listen. Minus the opening track and single “Itchin’ On a Photograph”, Never Trust doesn’t have the depth to demand more listens. Though “Itchin’” revs the album’s engine with its layered formula and driving bass, the following 11 songs eventually blow the clutch. “Tongue Tied” pumps Passion Pit-like beats that push the band into that same electro-pop category that so many other projects are involved in today, ruining the tone of the album a mere five minutes in, and though the reggae-urged “Lovely Cup” and Modest Mouse-influenced “Colours” both stand on their own, they don’t have the vigor to rejuvenate the anticipation with which “Itchin’” started us off.
For every song on Never Trust that’s listenable, there’s an equally unlistenable counterpart. “Betty’s a Bombshell” has the charisma and sentiment of Stereophonics’ more tender work, but “Chloe” sounds like a Dropkick Murphys song crooned by Billy Joel. (Though come to think of it, that would probably be a bigger bar hit than “Living On a Prayer”.) Same goes for “Cruel and Beautiful World” and “Slow”, the former ripping at your heartstrings like Conor Oberst, but the latter boring you to sleep with repetition and a half-assed drum beat. And let’s not forget “Naked Kids,” which should be nominated for two musical Razzies (if they existed) for “Worst Song Title” and “Worst Lyrics” (“Cruising down the highway with my friend’s top down / And we’re all on our way to the beach.”) It leaves more than a sour aftertaste for the second half of the record.
Even singer Christian Zucconi can't save the predictability of Grouplove's debut. Though his vocal range holds firm on the brink of cracking (in high octaves, he resembles Isaac Brock, while in low octaves he weirdly resembles David Gray), his band can’t achieve the same integrity with their music. On “Itchin’ On a Photograph”, Zucconi screams, “I’m letting go of all I have”, and it causes your heart to thump in tune with the evocative bass. But as the album drones on, it becomes apparent Zucconi’s decision to discard wasn’t such a positive thing. With half his album void of merit, perhaps he let go of his artistic integrity in the mix, and if that's the case, he should perform a Search & Rescue before he records a sophomore album.