Since their self-titled EP was released earlier this year, Los Angeles quintet Grouplove have been riding a wave of buzz helped by support slots with bands such as Los Campesinos!. Never Trust A Happy Song is their debut attempt at bringing sunshine to your speakers, even though they’ve released this at the worst time – right at the end of the summer season.
As a statement of intent it could have propelled Grouplove to success in the same way that artists like MGMT and Passion Pit have managed to carve out. Instead we have a frustrating record that showcases glimmers of talent as opposed to a treasure trove.
It starts off fine. Itchin’ On A Photograph has a similar vibe to Modest Mouse‘s well-crafted indie pop. The next two tracks are enjoyable despite their flaws – Tongue Tied is a potential summer smash but too sugar-coated in synths, and Lovely Cup also misses the mark slightly despite a couple of solid hooks. Colours on the other hand is an anthem that shows restraint in not bombarding the listener with more layers to hammer the point home.
But after this the rest of the album delves into one of two camps. The first is the batch of songs that really could be brilliant but aren’t quite there. Betty’s A Bombshell works as their best ballad, but that isn’t saying a lot, since it veers a bit too close to the MOR road. Love Will Save Your Soul is the sound of youthful optimism and is breezy but doesn’t really have a chance to stand out when it’s surrounded by so much filler.
Speaking of which, the second batch consists of material that should have been scrapped at the earliest opportunity. Slow breaks the flow with a weak and cliche-ridden crawl and Cruel And Beautiful World is also way too schmaltzy and saccharine to take seriously. The worst of the bunch though is Chloe, which sounds like all your indie nightmares from 2006 and 2007 combined.
There’s also the core problem in that the songwriting in general sounds under-developed. The fact that so many of these songs rely on just two chords and most tracks err toward minor chords gives pause to muse on whether they’ve missed a trick. Either way, it makes the second half of the record feel like so much effort to get through.
Yet while Never Trust A Happy Song is a disappointment, it’s by no means terrible. But no amount of willing in the world can hide the flaws, of which there are many. On their own merits some of these tracks are classy pop songs, but there needs to be more depth and scope to Grouplove’s sound if they are to look forward.