Music Reviews
After The Disco

Broken Bells After The Disco

(Columbia) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

When The Shins’ lead vocalist James Mercer and acclaimed yet currently under the radar producer Brian Burton (a.k.a Danger Mouse) teamed up to release their first record as Broken Bells in 2010, the result was a restrained yet intriguing set of songs that pleased all and offended none. Follow up album After The Disco is an elaboration on precisely the same formula, but this time shot through with nostalgic 80s era production that manages to be gloriously catchy and underwhelmingly predictable at the same time.

There’s a special kind of magic that happens when the duo gets it right. Album opener A Perfect World is a lovely example of richly textured pop, with its pulsing bassline, motorik drum beat and wistfully optimistic lyrics. But it’s the blaring synth hook, shameless and joyful, that makes the track stand out ten songs later. The title track also holds its own very competently; Mercer’s vocals match the unpretentiousness and relaxed urgency of lines such as ‘’Do what you want/do what you will/don’t tell me it’s not our time’’, and Danger Mouse’s spaced-out melodies are perfectly engineered. There are also the slightly cheesy but enjoyable Leave It Alone and the weird funk of Holding On For Life, which could not be more Bee Gees if the Gibb brothers came out and sang it themselves.

However, the second half of the disc sees a strange sort of patchiness plaguing the music. After The Disco is too sonically homogeneous at its core to afford songs such as The Changing Lights or Lazy Wonderland, both of which are composed with compelling first few measures hinting at some intelligent genre-mixing, but then meander off into an unevolving rhythm that is perfectly respectable but also utterly unmemorable. Control does a second rate impression of what A Perfect World did so well—the synth horns during its middle eight straddle a fine line between bold and comical. On The Remains of Rock and Roll, Mercer sings of driving to the promised land in a small car ("we’ll fit inside if we leave our bags behind") over a jouncing bass line while Danger Mouse orchestrates some syrupy string flourishes that can only be taken seriously with a healthy amount of goodwill.

It’s almost difficult to criticize Broken Bells when there’s nothing glaringly wrong with the record and their intentions seem so grounded and genuine. There are no hidden agendas, only synths; no false-modesty issues, just falsettos; no delusional ‘’supergroup’’ hype, simply two first-class musicians combining their skills and making music together. Almost as if he senses the discontent, Mercer sings on the last track ‘’Is something wrong/ you don’t look like you’re having fun’’. But to be completely honest, in many places it doesn’t sound as though he’s having much fun, either.

After The Disco deserves to be heard and delivers a truly pleasant listening experience, rousing even, when the hooks hit the spot. But—and perhaps this is what the duo insightfully intended when they gave the album its title—don’t expect a party.