What do you do when a sound that you have largely defined has been copied and homaged so much that you can barely move for 80s-tinged electropop indie bands? For Glaswegian group Chvrches, it was time for a small but important change. Their previous two albums, 2013’s The Bones Of What You Believe and its 2015 follow-up, Every Open Eye, were both self-produced and launched the trio to the top of every music media hype list. This time round, they have opened the doors to new ideas by working with super-producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Foo Fighters and more). The outcome? A largely successful move, one that should keep Chvrches at the front and centre of an increasingly crowded pack.
Opener ‘Graffiti’ pulls off the classic pop trick of juxtaposing melancholy lyrics with a frothy melody, presenting a bright, glossy sheen of electropop. Tinged with a slight air of sadness and regret, it is a fitting start to any album called Love Is Dead – and a great example of what Chvrches do best. However, the following ‘Get Out’ highlights the potential pitfalls of working with such a renowned and ubiquitous producer as Kurstin – one of over-familiarity. It is undeniably catchy, but a nagging thought lingers that it could have appeared on any of a dozen pop albums in the last 12 months. With a real ‘Out Of The Woods’ vibe, it is most definitely a track that would have slotted into either of Taylor Swift’s last two records. Whether it is a case of the mainstream pop world moving towards their sound however, or vice versa, it is an absolute banger of a tune – and after all, what more is important on a pop record?
Elsewhere, there is a real bite to the lyrics delivered by Lauren Mayberry. ‘Deliverance’ challenges an unknown ‘other’ to be: “Careful when you’re swimming in the holy water, drowning in your own beliefs” while ‘Graves’ confronts the modern world with images of: “They’re leaving bodies in stairwells, or washing up on the shore”. Bright and breezy subject matters these are not. ‘Forever’ seems to offer a minuscule amount of regret at one almighty argument (“I will always regret the night that I told you that I would hate you ’til forever”) before shrugging it off by saying: “Maybe I am just too much for you”. Another early highlight is a duet with The National’s Matt Berninger, on the subdued and more muted ‘My Enemy’, a track that feels as if all of the colour has been drained from it.
Sonically, it is a case of Chvrches levelling-up once more. The synth rhythms from Martin Doherty and Iain Cook lift and drive, injecting urgency and drama at key points – elevating even otherwise run-of-the-mill tracks such as ‘Never Say Die’ into pure ear candy. With the killer/filler ratio stacked heavily in favour of the former, Chvrches are now three for three. With this year’s festival season upon us, it will be interesting to see how far up the rankings Love Is Dead propels the trio. What is for sure is that this is a bold and confident release from a group fully aware of how good they are, one that sees them overcome any and all challengers.