Music Reviews
The Only Place

Best Coast The Only Place

(Wichita) Buy it from Insound Rating - 4/10

“It is pretty emotional. I'm not really holding back. And that makes me a little bit nervous because I am letting the public in on all of these personal things.” So says Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino of her new “grown-up record”, and before I listened to The Only Place, this seemed like exactly what I wanted from Best Coast. It turns out not to be much of a musical departure from their debut Crazy For You; it’s another jangly indie-pop affair released just in time for summer to arrive. So where on the album does Bethany Cosentino actually fulfil these promises?

She begins in her happiest mood, with the title track, a lighthearted ode to California. Lyrically and musically, it’s a throwback to 1950s rock and roll and doo-wop, the lines “We’ve got the ocean, got the babes, / Got the sun, got the waves” sounding particularly vintage. This song is the most reminiscent of Crazy For You, and she even ironically references the laziness of that album’s lyrics: "It’s no surprise we get so much done". While I wasn’t a fan of Crazy For You’s adolescent over-directness, I have to admit that after hearing The Only Place I’m beginning to see the appeal. I’m still not sure why critics sang the praises of something so wantonly simplistic, but I realise that Best Coast gained so many fans because we enjoy music that doesn’t take itself seriously (and I guess there must still be people who have never listened to Pavement).

Which is why The Only Place falls flat. Cosentino takes herself way too seriously, and if she truly is “letting the public in on all of these personal things”, she does so with so little personality that it’s completely unengaging: it’s daring because of its crassness rather than its (nonexistent) intimacy. What Cosentino seems to think is a lyrical development is actually just a shift in themes. She’s still very uncomplex, but tackling subjects that don’t suit her naivety: it’s a record about heartache and ennui, and it’s always clear despite the efforts of the twanging major-key guitar lines. Each song is tediously nonspecific, the sort of doggerel any other prominent indie-rocker would cringe at the idea of singing out loud. The depression she describes is believable only by virtue of how uninspired she sounds.

For instance, on Better Girl: "And it’s no fun when I’m always at home / And it’s no fun when I’m always alone". On Why I Cry: "Take a pill, spend the bills / Seems to be the way I get my thrill / A never-ending hill". On Up All Night: "I don’t know what day it is cause I’ve been up all night / I don’t know what week it is cause I’ve been up all night". At least she doesn’t rhyme “crazy” with “lazy” this time round.

Still, I respect How They Want Me To Be for its wisely guarded insecurities. It’s a melancholic response to her critics: "I wonder who’s there, and what they’ve said", and the chorus sounds intentionally unconvincing: "I don’t want to be how they want me to be". It’s one of few songs in which the lyrics don’t feel tacked-on, so it’s a shame it loses its integrity somewhat by lapsing into "I want you, you, you, you".

I will concede that The Only Place is, inarguably, very listenable. There are records I’ve had fewer conscious problems with that I’ve had to turn off in frustration, and Best Coast never actively annoys me. It’s a testament to the fact that she can certainly write some terrific tunes, many of which will stick in your head for days. Her vocals are always gutsy and bright, even stronger on this album thanks to Jon Brion amping things up from her earlier work’s lo-fi haze – and the string arrangements on My Life and Up All Night work wonders. However, the fact remains that if anyone other than Bethany Cosentino were performing these songs, I’d have no patience for the album’s overall laziness.