On this tired, tired album, Shopping's sound is the most exhausted.
The Official Body
19 Jan 2018
Tired. That's how Shopping sounds on their third album, The Official Body. They're tired of the education system, tired of touring, tired of consumerist culture. On this tired, tired album, their sound is the most exhausted.
Maybe they have a reason for their droopy hooks, repetitive riffs, and zonked-out vocals. Since their smash debut album, Consumer Complaints, Shopping has worked nonstop. After growing out of the DIY label that produced their debut album and releasing the extremely well-received Why Choose in 2016, Shopping has been on a ceaseless and seemingly never-ending tour cycle. In fact, their various obligations required the recording of this project to take only ten days. Unfortunately, the brevity shows.
A third album is always a tricky beast: the debut has to show it's worth the time, a sophomore project needs to demonstrate there's more to say, and the third album requires proof of a group's staying power. For a band that's built a career on being outspoken with their beliefs, now would seem an opportune time for them to release revelatory -- maybe even revolutionary -- work. Last year saw a revolving door of artists trying (and, often, failing) to eloquently speak on the current political moment. This album was exciting because Shopping has built a career on exploring tough-to-talk-about topics. Unfortunately, The Official Body fails to say anything at all.
That's not to say that any of the tracks are specifically bad, or that their sound has changed in a new and naughty directions, or that The Official Body is impossible listening. It's not. However, each track -- though ostensibly complete -- feels like it's lacking.
Examine track "Shave Your Head". The song starts as many of their tracks do: with Billy Easter's ominous bass, Andrew Milk's pumping drumline, and the addition of rattling guitar embellishments. Then, Milk begins singing, hinting at dissatisfaction, chanting, "You have the chance to leave the group / Shake your head / It doesn't matter." Lead guitarist and vocalist Rachel Aggs comes in, and the two lyrically converse, "This conversation about you / Is complicated / I feel frustrated / About you." The entire track is infused with musical and emotional tension, but ultimately, nothing is resolved. The result is a frustrating. Though it edges towards some kind of epiphany, the track stops before it's really started.
There are attempts at exploration throughout the album, but each falls short. Tracks "Discover" and "New Values" incorporate electronic elements that hint at invention, but this device is only peppered in randomly without the ability to fully breathe or manifest.
Perhaps the deflated sound also comes from the sour subject matter. Each song is rooted in negation -- someone ISN'T something. For a band that preens post-punk, that's par for the course. However, Agg seems to be missing the vitality behind the venomous lyrics.
What's most unfortunate is that Shopping can do better -- evidenced not only by their previous work but by a few stand-out tracks on this album. The Official Body begins promising enough, with a grumbling bassline on the opening "The Hype" that eventually fills out into a full sound complete with headbanging riffs by Aggs. "Asking For a Friend" makes for a very welcome dip into surf rock, highlighting Agg's vocal gravitas. That is a welcome reprieve from the chanty, almost conversation-like vocals that Aggs and Milk employ throughout the rest of the album.
Standout track "Control Yourself", which also happens to be the longest song on the album, succeeds where the rest of the album fails. Here, Aggs and Milk use the repetition and chanting they try on throughout the project, but it builds instead of stays static. Their ultimate conclusion-- "Why not free yourself?"-- feels like the apex listeners are yearning for throughout The Official Body.
For fans, The Official Body is worth surviving the sullenness for the respites. For newcomers, stick to their old stuff, and let Shopping sell you on their next record. Hopefully, they'll approach the project rejuvenated and well-rested.