The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love

[4AD; 2009]

Hype is a beneficial thing but the most important fact regarding it that is often cast aside is that it’s just another subjective opinion. And it seems the Big Pink prove to be another example of this. Critics from both sides of the Atlantic have given praise to debut album, A Brief History of Love. The majority have spoken? Well, perhaps. I could namedrop the band’s name to near everyone in my social circle (admittedly not a very big circle) and I could predict that most will think I’m talking about a charity event for Breast Cancer Care. So the Big Pink aren’t blowing the minds off countless folk – yet. Nonetheless, if such a trend does emerge, I will have to stand aside once more and be the minority because I just can’t get behind the slowly continuing praise that is being relinquished upon this band.

Or at least that was the opinion I had for quite some time while taking in their debut album. I found myself dismissing this as an accumulation of the aspirations all the big Brit-pop bands have with its big choruses and expansive sound. I never find myself able to eat up such stuff when it’s put in front of me – I can appreciate how big bands want to sound but too often it’s come from sacrificing other qualities they had before they turned up the speakers to eleven to a sold out stadium. But because it’s a debut album, A Brief History of Love can charge head first into this without having to worry about holding true to any previous conceptions.

And it really does. Once opener “Crystal Visions” blows itself open, the verses sway into choruses and back over charging guitar and thick bass. Upon the first few listens the impact doesn’t hit you and it feels almost like a false start but soon enough you wait eagerly for that creak of distortion after the four minute mark when the rush comes once more.

Then there’s the really catchy stuff. “Dominos” takes first place in being irresistible. Even during my initial dislike of the album, I couldn’t deny that this is a superb song. The chorus is in your head after just the first listen but as you listen repeatedly you begin to realise it’s also so very well produced, making the most out of every moment and making each break as fine a moment as the chorus itself. At the other end of the album is also “Tonight” which boasts a big chorus in the same vain as “Dominos” with snarling guitars but get’s the most out of the moment from contrasting it with a differently paced verse.

But the album is at its best when it’s working amidst a sort of paranoid atmosphere. Album highlight “Velvet” hits like a nail to the head when it’s piercing guitar comes into the picture from a throbbing almost mechanical backdrop of percussion and soothing backing vocals. It’s also where lead singer Robbie Furze sounds his best – simultaneously worn out and pissed off as he moves from singing “Not looking for love/ but it’s hard to resist” to “These arms are mine/ Don’t mind who they hold”. Elsewhere on “Frisk” he throws everything he has into singing “If this is love then I might just leave it” at the chorus with a spiteful tone that sounds like he’s directing it at someone so particular the listener could even be forgiven for taking it personally.

However, as great as the above mentioned songs are for their respective qualities, I find my praise for album going not a great deal further. Other songs lack the impact and flair of those surrounding: “Too Young to Love” flies about never really stays still long enough to make a lasting impression; “Love in Vain”, with its syrupy strings becomes too sickly too quickly and the fact that it sounds like a less impacting version of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” doesn’t do it any further favours; and closing song “Count Backwards From Ten” sounds too compressed to make the impact it desires, always sounding like it’s reaching for something a bit greater as it builds before it’s gone.

So I’m thus left at a crossroads, sitting on the fence, unsure about whether to join the majority who have so far praised it or begin filling the other side. Perhaps the best plan of action is to make a door between the two sides because when it’s at its best I’m more than happy to gorge on this ambitious debut. Every corner of the album seems filled with something and when you start this big, you’re only going to be left with expectations for keeping up this ambition. Or, of course, the speakers could be turned down. It could go either way, I suppose.