Album Reviews

The Big Pink – A Brief History Of Love

(4AD) UK release date: 14 September 2009

Boy, did 2009 need an album like this. And even if A Brief History Of Love is just a few shades short of perfection, the heave of anticipation that surrounds The Big Pink’s debut album shouldn’t be met with the sense of disappointment that has, of late, become all too commonplace. As the vultures circle rock music with an ever-increasing appetite for bloody consumption, The Big Pink’s timing could not have been any better.

Although the album’s forebears could argue with some justification for a percentage of the royalties, this is the kind of record that feels more like a raucous celebration of past achievements than an overly obsequious and indolent rehash job. For the cynical few, A Brief History Of Love might be a little too reminiscent for comfort. For the majority, it will be a relieving revisitation, perhaps even an life-altering introduction for those lucky, younger ones, to music that’s every bit as powerful as the subject it conveys.

And that really is the big thing for The Big Pink. Despite creating something that could be dismissed as little more than noise-pop revisionism, A Brief History Of Love just can’t help but exude quality – both the painstaking and effortless types. It makes the listener want to track its origins, whether it be with wistful recollection or wide-eyed discovery. The best music should always do that, and as far as 2009 is concerned, this is the standard-bearer for indie rock retrospection. And there’s a hell of a lot to be said for retrospection in an era that seems to prize lacklustre imitation.

“Noise-pop” will have already given away The Big Pink’s major influences, and yes, the The Jesus And Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine are mentioned by music critics with an ugly, lazy frequency. But on this occasion, the similarities are legitimate. At its best, A Brief History Of Love is by turns earth-shakingly frightening and blissfully embracing; a noise to damage eardrums, to destabilise bedroom walls; a sound to erupt from loudspeakers in city centres and fall out onto the streets as the 11th plague. It is – when it wants to be – decadent, riveting, rebellious and hopelessly romantic. The one minor caveat? It is, sadly, a little inconsistent. But its occasional dips in quality can readily be forgiven.

Just as My Bloody Valentine don’t exactly conceal the concept of their masterpiece, Loveless, so The Big Pink’s Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell have been pretty unequivocal about the context of their debut opus. A Brief History Of Love is, as it happens, a brief history of love.

Furze, at times sounding uncannily like either Richard Ashcroft or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club‘s Peter Hayes, regales the listener with stories from the front lines of love, forming emotional peaks and troughs that speak as much about the treasure of love as they do about the hazardous and torturous road which leads us there. While Furze isn’t afraid to brag with ebullience about his success with the opposite sex (Dominos), he’s often just as depressive and disconsolate about those that slipped away (Love In Vain).

It is these fluctuations in mood – a journal-like portrayal of the pursuit of love that splits its time equally between moments of angst, depression, isolationism and infatuation – that endow the record with an indefatigable I-might-be-down-but-I-shall-not-be-defeated character. The album’s spasmodic key changes are matched by an uneven sonic terrain that partners noise-making and bluster with surprisingly pleasing chord progressions.

The album’s glorious opener Crystal Visions closes with a climactic tirade of distortion detonations and points to a hefty, guitar-laden album; that is until it’s met by Too Young To Love’s improbable breakbeat funkiness, and then by the album’s soon-to-be terrace anthem, Dominos. Pinning down The Big Pink’s influences is one thing, but pinning down their sound, as the record moves from episode to episode, is far more difficult. Velvet, the album’s towering zenith, masterfully engages both brain and hip, culminating in a sound that surges and collides like the feeling of lustful love as it churns in the pit of your stomach.

Whereas the traditional pillars of alternative music such as Loveless, Psychocandy and Sonic Youth‘s Daydream Nation force the listener to trudge through thick and unrelenting barrages of layered noise in the search of graspable melody, A Brief History Of Love’s warm synths and electronic thuds and thumps invite the listener to dance through some of its denser noise textures.

Throw in instantly lovable melodies into the mix and anyone might be be forgiven for thinking it may take a little time to get used to what feels like an amalgam of Disintegration-era The Cure, Achtung Baby-era U2, B.R.M.C.-era Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Contino Sessions-era Death In Vegas and Fat Of The Land-era Prodigy. But the effect is immediate. For all its classical influences, this is an album with one beady eye very much on recent alternative-meets-pop methodology.

They say timing is everything. Well, it has been a long wait for a British album like this, the kind that transcends age group appeal and inspires cool kids to form bands and geeky kids to lose themselves in music’s history. Yes, there are weaker tracks towards the end, but this album’s best moments are the music equivalents of a beating heart.

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The Big Pink – A Brief History Of Love