There’s a reason why break-up albums are so commonplace, they’re almost a genre within themselves. It’s that window into an artist’s soul, the diary where feelings identifiable to anyone can be snooped upon. There’s a reason why Bob Dylan‘s Blood On The Tracks is so well thought-of, why Tunnel of Love is one of Bruce Springsteen‘s most cherished albums. There’s a reason why Adele is a multi-millionaire.
As they head towards their quarter-century, Kevin Barnes’ band Of Montreal have decided to create the polar opposite of a break-up album. UR Fun is an autobiographical account of Barnes’ blossoming relationship with Christina Schneider from the band Locate S, 1. Thankfully, despite cover art of Barnes and Schneider gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, this doesn’t mean an entire album of sappy love songs.
It does mean that there’s an undoubtedly celebratory feel to Barnes’ 16th album – an album full of the quirky, charming electro-pop anthems that have become Of Montreal’s trademark over the last quarter-century. As well as love and relationships, politics is the main thing on Barnes’ mind, with Peace To Freaks kicking off proceedings (featuring a chorus of The cops were barking up against the wall, but our hearts were singing, peace to all freaks”) and self-explanatory titles like Don’t Let Me Die In America.
Barnes has talked of the influence of ’80s pop like Cyndi Lauper and Janet Jackson on UR Fun, but there’s a hint of Charli XCX to the likes of Polyaneurysm, which looks at whether polyamory can cause more anxiety than it’s worth. St Sebastian is another driving anthem, with self-knowing lyrics like “I know you think you’re better than me, well, maybe you are”, while the crashing guitars and adrenaline-fuelled chorus of Get God’s Attention By Being An Atheist manages the impossible by being even better than its title.
Given that it’s an album all about Barnes’ flourishing relationship, it’s inevitable that some tracks dip into the over-sentimental. You’ve Had Me Everywhere is the main culprit, with a chorus of “If something were to happen to you, I would lose my mind and I’d never get it back”. Even here though, Barnes can’t resist casually throwing in a line like “Diamanda Galas said that mortality is insulting and now I tend to agree”, which goes to prove why Of Montreal have always been a level above your normal pop band.
Deliberate Self-Harm Ha Ha has a rolling bassline that recalls Spirit Of The Sky, but beneath the jokey title is a serious message about mental health (“I’d feel just like a sociopath, if I was feeling anything at all”), while Gypsy That Remains’ twinkly atmosphere is reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens until the full-on pop chorus (featuring Schneider herself) kicks in.
When you reach your sixteenth album, and have been defined by a unique sound, you’re probably not going to cause anyone any major surprises. This is where Of Montreal are at now – UR Fun is one of those albums which will delight their fans, and probably not make too much of an impression outside the fanbase. What this album shows is that Barnes and his band are still capable of providing a soundtrack to the best party you’ll never be invited to.