The Intelligence specialize in a certain form of songwriting that falls on the mid-point of a spectrum between Elvis Costello and Greg Cartwright. It’s a perfectly laid-back brand of Memphis punk if it were to take on old-school power-pop and the band wields it brilliantly. Unfortunately, only some of the songs on Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me can match the work of Costello or Cartwright, but it’s still enjoyable to hear them try. From the Beck-like opening track to the lonely acoustic-led closer, the record proves to be winsome in the moment but lacks staying power or anything particularly memorable.
Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me sets an impressive standard with the aforementioned Beck-esque opening number, “I Like LA”. It opens with a drum machine track and some punchy acoustic guitar before frontman Lars Finberg’s vocals float in. Everything fits together perfectly in the opening track, and though it does feel like an Odelay lost take, that’s still proving to be a pretty excellent thing to sound like. “I Like LA” eventually evolves into a full-band song after Finberg inexplicably leads a count-up from 1 to 44, marking each number with a single guitar strum. It’s a weirdly fascinating moment that lends the song and the record some of his unique personality but proves to be a fleetingly unique moment.
“Hippy Provider” is where the record really takes off and shows off The Intelligence’s full capabilities. It’s a powerful garage-pop rave-up that cuts and slices with the best of the genre. Unfortunately, the band loses focus a little after that strong opening with “Evil is Easy” which, apart from the chorus, just feels like an alternate take on “Hippy Provider”. “Techno Tuesday” returns to a more acoustic palette, featuring a catchy guitar arrangement and a nice keyboard accompaniment, but it doesn’t really stand out until the drum break. After that point, it plays itself out instrumentally, which is a trick The Intelligence pull multiple times over the course of Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me.
Then “The Entertainer” once again returns the band to slightly too-similar territory in the same vein of “Hippy Provider”, except this time they’re smart enough to navigate away from it at various points and into modernized 80’s new-wave territory a la Franz Ferdinand. “Reading and Writing About Partying” keeps the tempo up but comes off as a by-the-numbers song that never really takes off into anything more than pleasant. “Dim Limelights” finds The Intelligence returning to the skewed oddball folk-pop of early Beck before the song morphs into something louder and more expansive revealing a formula that grows increasingly thin as Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me progresses.
“(They Found Me in the Back of) the Galaxy” is the record’s first true highlight, finding the band sharpening their 80’s new-wave influences into something more unique than expected. This is the kind of music The Intelligence could make a classic album with — but thus far, they have refused to do so for whatever reason. It’s an unstoppable toe-tapper that showcases the bands intuitive guitar arrangements, accentuating an excellent song structure. “I’m Closed” continues a small streak of brilliance and essentially offers the same elements that make “(They Found Me in the Back of) the Galaxy” such an excellent track. Unexpectedly ending the miniature run of excellent songs is a wonderful, perfectly updated cover of Del Shannon’s “Little Town Flirt.”
Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me ends with a trio of songs that mostly return the band to more conventional territory with the exception of the almost overwhelmingly experimental “Sunny Backyard”, which more in common with no-wave than new-wave. It’s a strange, cluttered song that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the record and just seems haphazardly sequenced. Luckily, it’s not a closer — that distinction goes to the restrained “Fidelity”, which initially rivals the record’s best moments.
Unsurprisingly, the track reverts to the quiet-then-loud formula that’s slightly over-used throughout the record, ultimately detracting from the song and ending the whole affair on a predictable note rather than an unexpected moment of grace. While the last loud instrumental bit is one of the better ones, it’s still not enough to catapult it into higher regard. Overall, The Intelligence have made yet another solid record that hints at the classic one they’re capable of making.