Broken Bells -  After The Disco

Broken Bells - After The Disco

Columbia (USA) | Indie Rock, Space Rock

Grade: B

Broken Bells is comprised of James Mercer (The Shins) and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse), who team up again following their 2010 debut. After The Disco is an album of very well crafted songs, merging elements of new-wave and disco with Mercer’s trademark pop sensibilities. The production is rich, clean and lustrous. Congregations of instruments swoop in and out, colourfully centered around ear-worm vocal melodies. Burton again proves himself a master behind the desk, brilliant almost to a fault. Yet, despite having described what should be a perfect pop album, why am I left unmoved and struggling to recall even the most infectious moments?

Could it be that James Mercer has become too good at what he does, to the extent that he has lost a certain kind of edge? Not that The Shins were a band who took part in any sort of boundary-breaking. But at one point they felt fresh and new – even if that moment was brief and fleeting. It feels like I have stumbled upon some sort of awkward mystery; when did this sudden blandness descend? Is one of the symptoms of perfection a tendency to appear safe? Is that what I have come to label such consistent songwriting? Maybe some moments of subtle mediocrity are needed to highlight moments of brilliance. All I know is Broken Bells did not make a bad record, but what they did produce is strangely underwhelming.

Of course, there are standout tracks. “Perfect World” is melodically instant and boasts a catchy synthesiser motif. “Holding On For Life” succeeds at being a great cross-over disco pop song, hinting at what a contemporary Bee Gees would sound like, though lacking in any instance of danger. These are above-average songs, mind you, but maybe it’s the fact that this collection of songs does not amass to a coherent collection? Yet the songs do have a similar aesthetic; the overall sound is consistent and thematically it all seems quite well tied together. But maybe a collection of good songs does not always make a great album? It does, however, sometimes signal a safe one, an enjoyable one, and definitely not an awful one. After The Disco is just that: a collection of sometimes above average songs, which may actually be quite enjoyable. It’s good, I guess.
This article first appeared in Issue 1, 2014.
Posted 6:57pm Sunday 23rd February 2014 by Adrian Ng.