A desperate plea for radio recognition, the Griswolds' High Times For Low Lives is a step back for a band known for tentpole hooks and untempered kinetic dynamism.
On their 2015 acoustic EP, Australia's the Griswolds performed a bare-bones rendition of Walk the Moon's breakout hit "Anna Sun". There's a reason why they opted for it: Walk the Moon make music -- iridescent, innocuous, ignorance-is-bliss pop -- that the Griswolds aspire to make. "We tore up the walls / We slept on couches / We lifted this house," Christopher Whitehall sang, not so much interpreting the song as reprising Nicholas Petricca's original vocal. It's a rapid-fire parallelism that encapsulates the commercial image the Griswolds are hoping to claim, the same image that Walk the Moon claimed a long time ago. We're not just faux-hipster slackers who sleep on couches, Whitehall and co. seem to argue, we're rabid 20-something hedonists who'll turn up our amps until your wallpaper is shredded and your roof is capsized.
Sometimes, this image fits them well. Their fizzy, hook-heavy 2015 debut Be Impressive contained a few surefire earworms eager to burrow into your short-term memory; its singles probably lassoed the attention of New York's Wind-up Records in the first place. "Beware the Dog" managed to turn rambunctiousness into infectiousness. "If You Wanna Stay", likewise, succeeded through sheer unfiltered dynamism. It remains the quintessence of tentpole pop -- a massive, singalong chorus propping up an otherwise anodyne trifle. On High Times For Low Lives, though, the caffeine buzz seems to be wearing off. Here, the hooks don't hit as hard, the melodies seem more labored, and the production sounds like it was either intended for a Maroon 5 knockoff or the solo career of one of the ex-1D heartthrobs.
This is not to say that High Times For Low Lives is all lows and no highs. While nothing matches the near-epileptic energy of "Beware the Dog" or "If You Wanna Stay", there are moments that are sure to please pure-pop enthusiasts who ask for little else other than a melodic pathogen injected into their eardrum. In "Lookin' For Love", Whitehall nearly loses his voice belting out the chorus melody. Listening, one almost wishes that he would push it to a point of rupture; it would be a welcome fissure, a gasp of fresh air, a revelation of vulnerability amid an LP of otherwise unblemished sonic polish. "Get Into My Heart", perhaps the closest the band comes to recapturing Be Impressive's breakneck fervor, is a straightforward dance-pop confection that moves your feet and makes no demands.
"No inhibitions / Making bad decisions", Whitehall sings earlier on "Birthday", what sounds like a coked-out hybrid of the Neighbourhood and Nick Jonas circa 2014. With these words, he's exalting substance use and the freedom it can generate, but he's also unintentionally describing what seems to be the Griswolds' approach on the LP. These are songs from a band throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks; some work out, but most just sound like ill-advised genre experiments. "YDLM" is a time-warp funk flop that was probably left on Mark Ronson's cutting room floor. "Out of My Head" is anthemic festival-circuit pop at its most reductive, and the title track reduplicates the same synth-tinged balladeering we've already heard on the radio a hundred times this year. If the Griswolds were hoping to cement their status as "Australia's Walk the Moon", they've still got some work to do.