The Heavy Defy Musical Conventions on 'Sons'
The Heavy's latest release, Sons, demonstrates that their musical trajectory is far more complicated and nuanced than what's been embraced by popular culture.
17 May 2019
The Heavy's imprint on popular culture is evident and ubiquitous. Since their formation in 2007, the British rock band contributed their songs to movie and TV soundtracks in addition to their single, "Short Change Hero", driving the video game Borderlands. Other times, it's been practically impossible to avoid their mega-hit "How You Like Me Now" featured in several commercials and movies. However, pigeonholing a group like the Heavy is as fruitless as trying to circumvent their music. The Heavy's latest release, Sons, demonstrates their musical trajectory is far more complicated and nuanced than what's been embraced by popular culture.
The juxtaposition of the two opening tracks solidifies Sons' heterogeneity. "Heavy For You" immediately catches the listener with a brawny classic rock style, extenuating Dan Taylor's screaming guitar licks and Chris Ellul's elephantine drums. Kelvin Swaby's vocal screech recalls 1980s metal bands with hints of 1990s grunge. The Heavy's ability to traverse wide-reaching musical conventions are echoed in "A Whole Lot of Love", likely a nod to Led Zeppelin. Both tracks are sonically raucous and immense.
"Heavy For You's" weight is remedied by a shrewd call and response evoking a classic soul motif. This technique is fully developed in the subsequent and catchy "The Thief". Repeating the lyrics "the thief / the thief" creates a palpable tension resolved by swanky horns and Swaby's non-lexical vocals. The Heavy's ability to meld rock with soul and funk is revisited in "Put the Hurt on Me". But here the track is underscored by a distinct Afropunk sound. In another time, Sons would have been a hit pressing from Stax Records. The Heavy bring that energy into the contemporary moment.
As an indicator of the Heavy's defiance of music conventions, "Simple Things" is an homage to an artist who followed a similar musical direction. Unequivocally, the track's 1980s disco-funk sound, down to the trilly guitar and Spencer Page's lusty bass, is a clear reflection of Prince's music. More so, "Simple Things" overt sexual references and use of profanity, as demarcated by the lyrics "Caught up in the heat of your love, love / There ain't no misbehavin' / Ain't no sense in fuckin' shit up, up", is a connection to Prince's penchant for converging humanism and eroticism. Much as Prince's oeuvre was an intentional rejection of the pop-industry, the Heavy also challenge industry expectations while creating an undeniably amiable musical brand.
Soul and funk music fortified its cultural foundation with critiques of significant political and social issues. The Heavy follows suit with "Better As One". Written after the Charlottesville's white supremacy rally in 2017 resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, "Better As One" is a call for unification. The repetition of the lyrics "I know that we can do better / I know we're better as on / I know that we can do better" reiterates and concertizes the Heavy's message. The proclamation to end divisiveness reemerges in "Fighting for the Same Thing". For the Heavy, progress is only achievable "with love / We can make it / If we're fighting for the same thing." The Heavy's politicality is subtle as both "Better As One" and "Fighting for the Same Thing" are interpretable as uncomplicated love songs. In doing so, the band is intentionally widening the track's appeal as the lyrics easily reflect a multitude of social and political contexts.
Whereas Sons is musically on point, the lyrics are colorless. Throughout his career, Swaby positioned himself as a thoughtful and contemplative songwriter. There is a glimmer of his capacity to provoke in "Better As One" and "Fighting for the Same Thing". But Sons' lyrics lack meaning or depth. "Heavy For You" is an excuse to brag about sexual prowess and comes off as a cringe-worthy embodiment of the bad boy rocker trope. Lyrical repetition is overused throughout Sons and is especially cumbersome on "Simple Things" and "Fire". On the latter, the choir is underutilized since their primary contribution is to repeat the word "fire" for the entirety of the song's second half. The repetition is indelibly purposeful in "The Thief" and "Better As One" yet it is a technique that would yield more power when used sparingly.
At first run, the Heavy's fifth studio album seems like a random assortment of tracks dappling in various genres. In actuality, Sons is a musical bricolage. Despite its lyrical weakness, the album exhibits the Heavy's musical aptitude and creative inclinations.