As Bright Light Bright Light, Rod Thomas is many things – remixer, producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, clubnight runner – but his work always carries a signature imprint of early ‘90s pop. And it’s with Make Me Believe In Hope that the Welsh artist has consolidated his ideas so far into an LP with a clear thread running through and an end goal in mind.
Make no mistake, Make Me Believe In Hope is a lesson in pristine pop. Its silky production and heartache tales should be on the ‘must have’ list for any would-be popstrel seeking a formula for success. And while Bright Light Bright Light’s art-house image and modern take on ’90s beats and synth might not make him a Top 10 candidate in these days of karaoke pop stars, it has rightly earned him a name that many jump at the chance to collaborate with.
In the two years it’s taken to craft the album, Rod Thomas has remixed a swathe of artists – Ellie Goulding and Kelis are just two on the list. Musical meetings also pepper this debut, which might have watered down the sound he has trademarked for so long. But each guest – Jon Shave (Jessie J), Boom Bip (Neon Neon) and Andy Chatterley (Kylie) included – dances to his tune, resulting in a nifty tracklist, without the identity crisis.
These connections have rhyme and reason – often with stories to tell – which lend a charming honesty and personality the album. Cry At Films, featuring Scissor Sisters’ Del Marquis on vocals and guitars, was recorded after both saw Depeche Mode in New York. A glittering pop track that imagines life as a film, it exists in a world where wrong turns can be re-written like movie scenes.
Thomas’ portrayal of a soul laid bare features heavily throughout Make Me Believe In Hope, and it helps that his voice is strong, tuneful and a joy to listen to. On these songs he’s ever the bridesmaid, never the bride, with tales often centring around shattered relationships, like Moves’ advice on getting over someone backed against shimmering house-pop. But beneath this there’s always an innocent faith in happy endings set against the mature voice of hindsight. Against the soft chimes and shuffling metronome of Immature, he nostalgically muses, “Everything I wanted seems so immature”, before later tackling break ups from the dumper’s perspective, with Grace’s sad voice of experience punctuated by broody, pulsing basslines.
Along similar lines is Disco Moment, a track which captures a snapshot of dancefloor heartbreak, flipping the perspective, Thomas says, by imagining that you’re “Watching someone you really care about have that joyous disco moment in front of you. You’re not included, and they haven’t even noticed.”
On the flip side, the album affords room for romance’s first flicker and the part-rave, part Gospel-tinged dance of Feel It – one of many stand-out moments – is the first to take on that mantle. Having acknowledged his influence by late ‘80s/early ‘90s music, the tracks are largely prefixed by rhythms and looping pianos of those decades, boosted by emphatic choruses. And bursting at its seams both in beat and joyful sentiment is Love Part Two, co-written with Andy Chatterley. Shades of early Take That, or even Bros, showcase pitch-perfect, warm singing tones, brought up-to-date with touches of electronic sound effects and polished layers. Recent single Waiting For The Feeling is another nugget of hands-in-the-air pop, where an old-school piano weaves with nightclub moments more mature in years than the infatuated, teen-esque tale of love it tells.
Make Me Believe In Hope’s storytelling straddles two sides: self-reflection-tinged sadness of the kind Robyn would sing about, or a sort of James Yuill-esque belief in happy love endings. Bright Light Bright Light has backed both of these with the kind of towering production quality and lyrical complexity that the rest of pop surely should be striving towards. And while next time a diversification of subject matter and formula might be necessary, for the moment, you can’t help but fall for Rod Thomas’ ecclesiastical parables and verses that have fallen hook, line and sinker for love, in all its complexities, on the dance floor.