Friday, April 15, 2011

Album Review: Glasvegas - Euphoric Heartbreak

One of my favorite bands of recent years, Glasvegas, has dropped their second album called Euphoric Heartbreak. It's out on U.S. iTunes now and as I understand it, it will be in stores and Amazon on May 17.

The new set represents change and forward movement for the band, and for me it's quickly becoming a favorite. If their debut was equal parts Roy Orbison + Phil Spector girl group + wall of sound + outlaw rock then their new one is bombastic U2 + mellow Coldplay + a dash of something like the Libertines and...perhaps a sign of maturity by Allan and the band. And for that, I think like most successful records, this one has it's own sound. (Above: Album cover for Euphoric Heartbreak.)

On the upside, this progression is a great sign. After all, who wants to hear the same thing over and over again. All the songs on this new album really do express either heartbreak, euphoria or - more often - both. As I understand it, the theme is inspired by main man James Allan's recovery and positive outlook now after experiencing the heights, challenges and exhaustion of fame as Glasvegas hit it big a couple years ago. All this, combines with some artful tune-smithing really deliver a quality modern rock album that is both different than most of what's out there as well as accessible for anyone. It's a high quality effort by this group. Good stuff.

On the downside, moving away from topics like social workers, missing parents, the death of a child and whatever the Hell Stabbed was about on their debut in favor of songs about love, loss and regret seems like perhaps a regression. After all, as Joe Strummer said about why the Clash didn't do love songs, "the subject's been covered." But, on the other hand - and to their credit - Glasvegas turn the "love song" on its head at least once in this album. Also in my opinion as a detriment is the album opener and closer. Good effort to do something different there and I get it. Not the worst thing I've heard, but put it this way...the middle nine tracks truly outshine the opener and closer. (Below: The band. James Allan in white.)

But hey, all this is relative. Euphoric Heartbreak is good album full of catchy songs that make you think. Can't do much better than that, and while music is subjective to the individual taste I submit that this one is worth checking out. I give it a big thumbs up.

I've had the full set plus some b-sides at my disposal now for about a week, and below is my review song-by-song. Some recommendations for what to get are after the review.

Pain Pain Never Again. "I'm overcoming the obstacles of the ubiquitous demon named shame." This is the first of the bookend dirges that open and close this album. Featuring a woman speaking in French, James Allan's voice eventually comes in as he speaks the English lines of the track, submerging the woman's voice under his and an increasing lawyer of synth and echo. Just about when you've had enough...the next track on the album begins.

Anyway, best I can tell, this is an ode to moving past ones problems and addictions an on to a better place - leaving behind the heartbreak of that. If you think of it more as a prelude or intro to the whole set of songs, perhaps it finds its place. I'm not a fan of this "song" and will likely just skip over it when listening to the album.

The World Is Yours. "You don't need me as much as I need you." Excellent song. As disappointing as the opening track is, this song is the real deal and quite the contrast. Things are looking great! This is what Glasvegas is about. Moving, compelling, building, epic, this one delivers euphoria and heartbreak with both barrels and a massive tune and a lyric that centers on the notion that the singer has a love who he wants to win or win back - or perhaps just is aching to earn approval from. Professing to give over completely to his love, there is questioning and dreaming as much as clarity of purpose such as, "since my eyes met yours, if I'm your world the world is yours." Yates, Keats, Hemmingway? No. But clear. A key element in this song is a "dropout" section in the middle where the music fades to low and Allan is virtually speaking his lyrics professing that he wants the "stars to align" so that he can ensure his love knows how he feels. And then, it builds back up again steadily to the precipice of "that undeniable truth" and the payoff explosion of "you don't need me as much as I need you!" This is the heartbreaking element present and't need I....(desperately)...need you. And that's what this song is about. Finishing in a rocking clatter, this is the star of the entire album if you ask me.

You. "A life long debt I don't mind owing." OK, to me this song has the right spirit and the tune is good, but the lyrics are weak. Bordering on nonsense I am not sure what to make of this one. To me this seems to be an ode to the profound feelings felt for that one special person you love - "you" from the perspective of the singer. But, stuff like "my glow in the dark sea horse never not glowing" makes me wonder. Enjoy this one for the overall feel rather than anything that it might be trying to say. On the strength of the music and tone of vocal delivery this is possible, especially as bridge to the next song.

Shine Like Stars. "Spare a thought for the one that matters." Starting with some electronic sounds and a vocal lead in that forwards the notion that while the past might not be so great, the present and future is looking pretty good. In fact, you might say it's time to "shine like stars." The song settles into a driving beat and guitar groove that makes it the most traditional rock and roll song on the album. This is the first appearance on the album of an all "euphoric" perspective. No heartbreak in sight. Indeed, the future is so bright that while shining like stars James Allan and anyone listening just has to wear shades (and if they happen to be Ray Ban Wayfarers or a pair of vintage Jean Paul Gaultier 56-8171 metal frames that Allan prefers, all the better). Nothing but goodness on this tune. Rock out.

Whatever Hurts You Through The Night. "If there was a way with me, would you run away?" Following the ramp up of the preceding three songs, this one brings the listener back down to Earth with a contemplative song about longing love from a distance - perhaps by one stranger to another, perhaps by people who know each other. Imagined and longed for escape from someplace else...someplace better. That's the sentiment. Musically, one song that came to my mind when listing was by Life In a Norther Town by Icicle Works. (Remember that from the 80s?) That song is a bit different, but that icy, cold, longing sound and feeling is apparent in this song by my ear. Somewhere I read that this one would be right at home in the movie Pretty In Pink. Might be. Meantime, Allan's vocal delivery and ability to emote the passages in different phrases that rise and fall in pitch perfectly to support the notion of the lyrics and, at least for me, leave you with appropriate melancholy.

Stronger Than Dirt. "Thoughts of me and you forever, the rest can go to hell." This song is one of two on Euphoric Heartbreak that speaks from the perspective of homosexuality. To be precise, the idea here is that society as a whole frowns on homosexual love, but that this love is as valid as any other male/female love...and what often times people in homosexual relationships have to hide or skirt around given those societal feelings. I give Glasvegas a lot of credit for this track because it would have been VERY easy to make it about heterosexual love and how "they just don't get it, and we'll be together no matter what they say." But they didn't. No, James Allan has said in the media that he thinks that prejudice against gays is wrong and this song backs it up with his lyric about how the two protagonists who are up against such prejudice are, in fact, bound and determined to be "stronger than dirt" to make their love work.

For those of you who may not be too comfortable embracing this notion, try. It's thought provoking. And hey, at minimum, I think most people can relate to the fact that any love situation - gay or straight - requires those in it to be strong.

Dream Dream Dreaming. "I know you're out there somewhere." Music is subjective. I have read that this song is about a deceased relative of singer James Allen, but in reality it could be about missing a love who has died or who is perhaps imagined...someone who can only be seen when dreaming. Ether way, this song pulls at the heartstrings - something Glasvegas are good at. I like this song as it makes you think about that special someone in your life and how unbearably sad and it would be if they were gone or - if you go with the other interpretation - it makes you think about what might be possible knowing that the one, that one, is indeed out there somewhere. These sentiments are wrapped in a clever tune that complements the subject well. The song builds from almost a drum-aided lullaby into a bombastic ending - also a Glasvegas specialty - that pays off the emotion of love in a really compelling way in my book. Good song.

I Feel Wrong. "Once a day, I think about killing myself." This is the other song on the album that addresses the issue of homosexuality. It is direct, blunt and makes you think. To summarize, the song is about how guilty the protagonist feels about being gay, but he cannot help it. The shame he feels, the knowing disapproval from his family, the fact that society does not condone his sexuality...all achingly present. A mid-paced ballad backed with shimmering guitars, synths and a steady drum beat, this song shines a spotlight on something that all too many people are walking around feeling about themselves. Again, bravo to Glasvegas for taking this on. While neither this song nor Stronger Than Dirt will be mega hits, they matter.

Euphoria, Take My Hand. "Heartbreak, I'm not holding your hand any more." This is another all-euphoria song and it feels good! Whether it's about the actual achievement of overcoming heartbreak with a new love or the desire to do so, the sentiment here is unmitigated, unleashed love directed in a positive direction. All things are possible and the future is brilliant. Allan belts his delivery and you believe. As the first single off this album, the song has seen chart success in the UK and I see why. This is a first rate song and you should give it a listen. (Right: James Allan on stage live.)

Lot's Sometimes. "The birds sing for you and me in the morning, lots sometimes."  This song is a list of things the singer thinks about someone (could be a lover, could be a parent, could be someone else), cleverly delivered using the device of "lots sometimes." My interpretation is that the list is being recited by someone who has a love who he wants around, but who is not. Again, the balance between euphoria and heartbreak. Ranging from unrestricted love and longing, animosity, nostalgia, the future and more, the list grows in length and diversity as the tempo picks up steadily as the the song progresses. By the end Allan is singing fast and furious against a brisk drumbeat and feedback as he desperately articulates the many ways he feels about his love. This approach is different. It's effective. It works for me. I like how it makes you think about the many different ways you relate to your partner, your family and friends. Quite a corker from Glasvegas and an unexpected favorite. Oddly, after the song is over, the last 30-40 seconds of the track sounds like a muffled recording of a birthday party - starting with some fireworks and conversation then the birthday song. OK whatever.

Change. "Before you change for me, change for you."  This is the second of the bookend dirges to close the album. Again, it's slow, plodding and features Allan and his mother reading the lyric. In the first part, Allan is saying that he knows he is on a stray path but afraid to change. In the second part, his mother saying, essentially, it's never too late to change and you can do it, son. OK, so, nice sentiment. And, from what I've read about Allan and the way he dealt with quick success and non-stop touring, this lyric is an all-to-real dialog. In any case, he seems to have got past it as evidenced by the existence of the Euphoric Heartbeak album. All well and good...and hey, thumbs up for artistry and trying something different...but this song is not a favorite for me and closes the album on the same down note as it opened. Given all the good stuff - bitter and sweet - in between, it's too bad.

Single Euphoria Take My Hand came with two b-sides. Both are slowish atmospheric numbers...

Georgia Walk With Me. "Have I asked you, could us two be one?" Backed with syths, Allan is singing a ballad of a sort in which he is asking his song love interest - Georgia I strongly suspect - to walk with him. Simple as that - I love you, would you be mine and "walk with me?" I like it.

7 AM Eternally. "I don't mind if I have to stay forever and a day at 7 a.m. eternally."  The first minute of this song is a sample of a NASA launch countdown audio with a cheeky, plucky guitar over the top and then when the rocket lifts off in the sample the song itself starts. As mentioned, it's an atmospheric number with Allan's voice backed by what sound like either syths or possibly some strings - or maybe both. The main point here seems to be that Allan saying there's no place he'd rather be than where all things are fresh, new, dawinging and possible....he'd like to be at 7 AM, eternally.

So there you go. Overall, I would say this is a very solid "sophomore" effort from this band. Lots to like here - and more than just sometimes if you know what I mean. Seriously, check this stuff out. I don't hear anything like this out there.

If you are someone who is thinking about buying the entire album - do it. I'll guess it ends up being one you listen too quite a bit.

If you are someone who typically only downloads individual songs, here are my recommendations...
  • Must have: The World Is Yours, Euphoria Take My Hand, Dream Dream Dreaming, Shine Like Stars, Lots Sometimes
  • Good, but not essential: Whatever Hurts You Through The Night, Stronger Than Dirt, I Feel Wrong, You, Georgia Walk With Me, You (but ignore the lyrics)
  • Skip: Pain Pain Never Again, Change, 7 AM Eternally

1 comment:

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