“I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that will mean something,” Elizabeth Morris ponders near the middle of Europe, the second album from the London-based indie pop band Allo Darlin’. And, though the sentiment resonates (especially considering the lightning-fast, disposable nature at which it seems we consume our music these days), the listener can’t help but snicker at the thought with regards to the very nature of the album. Europe is built around songs that could, and should, mean something to the music fans that stumble upon it, heavily indebted to the alternative pop music of the 80’s and 90’s, but with enough clever left turns to feel original and, well, meaningful.
Much of what critics and listeners loved about their 2010 self-titled debut remains on this sophomore effort, but with the enough tweaks to make Europe feel unique and like an improvement. Where the first album featured a male counterpart to Morris at times, Europe only utilizes the backing vocals for the show-stopping conclusion of “Still Young,” allowing the penultimate song on the album to feel like a genuine climax; it’s surprise easily envisioned as an ending to a live set. And, where the band was easily branded with a “twee” label on their first offering (hell, they offered the chorus of Weezer’s “El Scorcho” mid-song in “Kiss Your Lips”), it is harder to pigeonhole Allo Darlin’ on Europe. There are few moments that could be classified as cute, but the band seems to pay more of an homage to the early-’80s indie-pop that much of contemporary indie, as well as twee, was influenced by. The melody of the title track could be a long-lost Smiths number, while “Northern Lights” and “Wonderland” both recall R.E.M. in their early prime.
But, even though the band isn’t shy by evoking universally likable influences, a few listens to Europe is all it takes to realize that Allo Darlin’ have a sound that is very much their own. Such straight-ahead pop mastery has become unfashionable in 2012, and Europe begs the question as to why. From the jangly mover “Capricornia” to the Silver Jews-name-dropper “The Letter,” Europe is unabashed in its likabilty, making it an easy target for music fans who need music to be pushing the sonic envelope. And, where some may think their sound is too easy, it is in the album’s slow songs that Allo Darlin’ reveals the aforementioned weight of the offering.
The idea of meaningful music returns of closer “My Sweet Friend,” which proudly declares “a record is not just a record, a record can hold memories,” a striking sentiment that is also on display in “Tellulah,” a standout on an album of standouts. On “Tellulah,” music is front and center in a series of memories, and Morris nearly has her greatest revelation in her wondering if she will ever hear a meaningful song again. But, she then takes it a step further by asking if “she has already met everyone who will mean something.” Sure, music can offer meaning in and of itself, and analyzing how music affects the individual is a noble endeavor, but, really, we listen to music (or, at least to well-thought lyrics) in order to gain some insight into the human condition. Allo Darlin’ makes this leap on Europe, resulting in an album that is subtly ambitious and surprisingly rewarding.