Giving a value judgment on music is quite weird, isn’t it? Like, when you really think about it, what’s the point of music criticism? Are we really just here to help shift units and push careers, while potentially damaging others? And how do we manage to place any sort of uniformity on our own opinions when our views shift on an all-too-regular basis? That’s why they call us “hacks”, right? What happens when an album lands on our desk and we aren’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate it? Blah blah blah….
These thoughts kept playing around my mind when I finally ‘got’ Radiate Like This, Warpaint’s majestic fourth album. And it took me quite some time to get it, it really did. So here’s my ‘review’ in three sections, presented via a reconstruction of my internal monologue:
What is this? Oh, no. This is bland. Like ‘third album by The Strokes’ bland. Like “Arcade Fire were once this great beacon of sincere musicality but now look at them” sort of bland. It’s the production that just doesn’t work. Everything is flattened to within an inch of its life here. This is AOR rock for people who eat microwaved meals for one. I mean, I genuinely used to love this band. True, they’ve not managed to best the Exquisite Corpse stuff, or maybe that’s my indier-than-thou attitude taking over, but they were a good band whose albums always had something of value to them. Maybe a case of diminishing returns actually if you really consider their discography, but I was rooting for this record and this band. I’ll give it another listen… no, it’s still not doing anything for me.
THE FORGIVENESS STAGE
How about not thinking of it as a Warpaint record and just listening to it on its own merits? It’s harsh when music writing always centres on the previous work of a band, and it’s been a while since their last record and a million and one things have happened to them (and you) as people since then so maybe it’s time to stop comparing the record against its younger siblings and see the value in itself without recourse to crude contrasts. There’s some good stuff here. “Champion” and “Stevie” are both really good, but that production is still more than a little annoying. Okay, it isn’t as weak as I first thought but this still isn’t really doing it for me.
THE “AH, I SEE!” MOMENT
This is actually alright, you know. No. It’s a little more than alright – this is good. What was I listening to before? Okay, so you love Hall & Oates and Steely Dan, so why the earlier vitriol about AOR stuff? This isn’t bland, this is smooooth. Wow, “Stevie” is almost yacht rock. The production is ace! The chiming guitars are like Cocteau Twins, the drums and bass are pure Toto, while the lyric of “Thеre’s so much that I would really love to show you / Wanna hold and love and really get to know you” really hits, actually. Naïve in its simplicity, but then isn’t that the point of love? And the way the lines of those lyrics are delivered – yes, mate!
Okay, so now I am ‘in’ – what else has this record got? Let’s start at the beginning. “Champion” is a dreamy slice of pop about god-knows-what. Nature? Probably. Yeah, just write that it’s about nature and do it with conviction. You’re good at that. “Hips” is a DFA style indie-disco floor filler. Are indie discos still a thing? All the ingredients are here – lively drums, stuttering guitar lines and a pulsing bassline (which is too low in the mix but you’re trying to be positive here, remember?). It even has one of those “Uh-oh-uh-oh-oh-ooh” vocal lines that people like. But people can’t be trusted. The song passes by nicely, but doesn’t lodge itself into my psyche like good songs do.
“Hard to Tell You” is great, but is it too early on the record for a ballad? Oh, hang on, the drums have kicked in a bit. It isn’t a ballad.
Then we’re back round to “Stevie” – probably best to listen to this on repeat a few goes before moving on. So good.
There’s a definite sense of the same vibe on these tracks. Like mellow introspection, not quite melancholic but realist. The lyrics rarely go beyond the superficial, and that’s fine. Warpaint are talking to the universal here, not talking down to it. The fragility of the personalities shines through the vulnerability of the hearts-on-sleeve earnestness of the words, they aren’t burying ideas behind concepts here. This makes a nice change. “Like Sweetness” is a bit like Billie Eilish in places, no?
Okay, so quite a few of the last tracks on the record aren’t sticking for me. “Proof”, “Altar” and “Melting” are fine but there isn’t much interesting going on here. “Send Nudes”, though – cracking way to close the album. This is the kind of twisted beast I like folksy songs to be. Sounds nice – dark as anything lyrics underneath: “If you say my name I’ll be right there / Here I am under your clothes and stuck in your hair” could mean anything. That last track was like peak Sufjan Stevens in that the music and lyrics clash. Fair play.
Yeah, that’s a decent album. Flags towards the end, sure. Some rippers on there, though. Glad I stuck with it. Might as well listen to “Stevie” again then, eh?