Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Album - Belong
Release - March 29 2011 Slumberland/Collective Sounds
Yesterday a study was released that stated what most of us already knew, there is a correlation between the effects of physical pain and social rejection. Is it a coincidence that this interesting, if not painfully evident, information was released on the same day as Pains of Being Pure at Heart's highly anticipated Belong? Yes, but what a fun coincidence.
Unfortunately I have recently felt the pain these doctors speak of. No, I did not have my heart broken by a woman - Frank has built up a heart of stone, tempered with glass that is capable of withstanding any mortal females unpredictable whims- but it was instead Pains of Being Pure at Heart themselves. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I am in fact outgrowing the primal emotional that noise pop speaks too. Or maybe they have put out a disjointed, confused recording that is trying too hard to emulate heroes instead of further carving their own sound. Of course the right answer is the latter.
My main problem with the album is the production by one of those old "alternative" work horses Flood. Through out the 80s and 90s Flood's production on titles, especially one's from emerging artist like PJ Harvey and Nick Cave helped artist on the rise gain a larger audience by producing material that made the work more accessible without compromising the vision or talent. I think that the production on To Bring You My Love forced her to tone back as a performer but not as a artist which lead to some fucking powerful music. But with the type of music Pains are making, the production causes the ideas to sound forced. PJ Harvey's songwriting lends itself to the shine and grandness of Flood's productions. The bands rough yet character filled craftsmanship has given way to the whims of sophisticated production.
The album feels very disjointed due to the many things that it attempts to accomplish. A common theme when reading any kind of criticism of Pains is their strict focus on Slumberland inspired noise pop. It is through this focus and admiration that the band began to form their own voice. While the remenants of early 90's indie music can be heard loud and clear on the self titled and Higher Than the Stars EP, the songs still bore the stamp of a band honing in on their sweet spot as a collective.
On Belong there is point where the music almost borders on plagiarism. At least for you and I, the discerning college rock listener. Example: Take the opening track Belong and now listen to My Bloody Valentines's Soon. You can do this with pretty much every song on the album and a song from Jesus and Mary Chain, Stones Roses, Smashing Pumpkins (cringe) and Goo Good Dolls (super cringe). Not City of Angels Goo Goo Dolls mind you but some of the tracks could be mistaken for Superstar Car Wash outtakes. The songs all really do sound nice, but listening to most of the tracks I find myself longing for the original. Except with the Goo Goo Dolls of course.
Let's see what else... Oh yes. Kip's voice should not be so up front or undistorted. The nasal quality works great when it's sung into a pawn shop microphone, but the clarity in this recording is a bit too much. I love Heart in Your Heartbreak, but we have been listening that song, the lead single for a couple of months now so I was already looking forward to it.
Obviously I would not be as disappointed in this album if I did not have such a fond admiration for the band's precious work. While not wholly original, their previous two releases felt more like a love letter to a very specific music lover. I give this review such a low score with a very heavy heart. Kip was the first interview I did over at weshotjr and I have to say that he was one of the coolest dudes I have ever met. A total spazz music nerd with a focus on noisy pop saccharine. It was like looking in the mirror. I know in my heart that the band's intention on this release were 100% pure. And FUCKING BRAVO for staying with Slumberland. You can read my interview to see how that is a classy move on so many levels.
This is by no means a sell out record or the nail in the coffin that some revivalist hating reviewers have been waiting for. I just believe it is a bit of a miss step. Although I do agree with the general consensus that this album is going to shoot them into the big leagues, which I hope to the non-existent god happens. I am still excited to see what is in store for these guys. For my money, Let England Shake is the best album of PJ's career.
Frank's Final Verdict = C+