English act Lovejoy create soft, dreamy pop that evokes sunny spring days -- until you take a close listen to the lyrics. Leave it to the English to be both soft-spoken and sharp-tongued.
Lovejoy makes music that wafts through the air like Glade, a light and breezy mix of folk simplicity and electronic whispers that envelop your ears, only to suddenly dissipate. Mining the territory somewhere between the lighter fare of Echo and the Bunnymen, classic Sea and Cake, and that old weird guy who hooks his laptop up to an amplifier and sings over programmed lounge songs at the local dive, this English outfit specializes in soft, whispery pop. Richard Preece, the main mind behind Lovejoy, has perfected creating sunny soundscapes, music that lends itself to sipping iced tea on perfect spring days. If refreshing were an adjective suited to music rather than beverages, Lovejoy's songs would be described as such.
That is, until you take a close listen to the lyrics, for the distance between Lovejoy's music and lyrics is rather significant. Taking aim at the absurdities of modern culture and the emotional devastation of failed relationships, Preece writes lyrics that are at turns satiric and poetic. Nothing escapes the aim of his pen, from the arrogant stupidity of the fashion world to the shallowness of modern American society. And when he sings about love, the unsettling discrepancy between the soothing music and elegiac lyrics can be just as haunting as actual heartbreak. Indeed, Lovejoy's nonchalant detachment makes the lyrics all the more disturbing, underscoring the futility of trying to avoid life's constant disappointments.
Everybody Hates, Lovejoy's third full-length album, sees them perfecting their blithe brand of melancholia. Mixing soft acoustic strumming with electronic flourishes and both live and programmed drums, their music is a carefully assembled hybrid of new wave, folk, and electronica. Rather than seeming like a forced combination of merely superimposed elements, the result seems as natural as pairing a bass and guitar. The album begins with "Radio Lovejoy", a 32-second collection of static, radio fuzz, voices, and snippets of the songs that follow. Perhaps the track was added simply to make the number of tunes an even ten, but the random chaos is in sharp contrast to the songs that follow, which are focused in both sound and lyrics.
"Everybody Hates Us and We Don't Care", the first proper song, is the most gentle "go to hell" ever offered, and the first of several on the album. Like a proper gentleman, Preece first offends his own before taking fire at others: "You can take your little England / You can take your TV shows / You can take your gossip columns / You can take your fame halo... There's never been a motivation we share..." All of this is softly exhaled over dreamy guitar shimmers and spare percussion. Boy, the English never forget their manners. One could not offer a critique over cultural folly and hubris, however, without addressing the United States. In "America", Preece paints a scathing picture of that most pathetic of American creatures: the privileged middle-aged woman who views art and culture as just another accessory. Just reading the lyrics invokes the feeling of being tailgated by a north Dallas soccer mom driving a Cadillac Escalade: "She wants to work at an art gallery... rock 'n' roll is fun and art should set you free."
Lest you think Preece operates in a singular mode, he can also pen a gut-wrenching love tune. "Nicotine and Love" laments the addiction to the two vices mentioned in the title, and Preece's words sound like they should be bound in faded leather: "So many years were wasted on nicotine and love / And red wine tears were washed away on rain soaked late night streets." Here the music is more subdued and spare, but still buoyed by a bubbly beat that rises to the surface of the song like so many nagging memories. Likewise, in "Sid Vicious", Preece wonders how youthful certainty gives way to the crippling doubt that accompanies age: "Whatever happened to the people we once knew? / The red headed arrogant still thinks he knows it all."
By the middle of the album, Everybody Hates begins to sound too much like itself, meaning that the songs lack in sonic diversity. Eventually, a programmed beat sounds like every other programmed beat -- clinical and too perfect. Still, Preece and company clearly know their craft, for not any band could take such disparate elements and meld them into such an organic, cohesive whole. Overall, the album is more than worth buying, particularly for fans of eighties new wave -- or soft-spoken, cynical sons of bitches like myself who occasionally like a good sob. Now pour a sparkling beverage and get pissed off -- gently.