In an industry that often takes itself far too seriously, We Are Scientists are a rarity. They are one of the few bands who are able to poke fun at themselves and incorporate humour into their live performances and interviews. This was the case when they first achieved their breakthrough success back in 2005 with their major label debut, With Love And Squalor, and it is still true 15 years later as they return with their sixth studio record.
Their approach has been a breath of fresh air compared to many of their peers – and is probably one of the main reasons they have outlasted most of them. It has also aided their gradual musical progression from indie rock to pop, which manifests itself more boldly than ever before on Megaplex. It’s still unmistakably a We Are Scientists album, but there is a sense from the off that they are challenging themselves and experimenting with their approach to songwriting more than before.
Opener One In, One Out is a perfect introduction to the duo’s latest incarnation, kicking off with juddering synths before giving way to their more familiar guitar/drum combo. “That’s why I stopped right where I stood when I saw you,” sings lead vocalist Keith Murray on the seductive chorus, which takes no time at all to leave an impression. The big hooks are still front and centre, but they are just one of many tricks they now have up their sleeve.
The electronic undercurrent rears its head again on Heart Is A Weapon as the pair deliver a huge slice of addictive, ‘80s-indebted synth-pop with a funky chorus. It’s as slick as you would expect from an album produced by longtime collaborator Max Hart (ex-Katy Perry) and backs up bassist Chris Cain’s promise that the band wanted to “drop a fun-bomb” with their latest effort. This description is particularly apt for Not Another Word, which is a bright and breezy pop romp that also throws in a guitar solo for good measure.
Yet despite the multiple dalliances with electronic keys, those yearning for the days of the frenetic, guitar-driven We Are Scientists of old should also come away from Megaplex satisfied. Your Light Has Changed is a piledriver of a track, with a crunching riff that is heavier than anything they have put on record in years, while Notes In A Bottle contains the signature angular guitars that the band made their name with all those years ago.
No Wait At Five Leaves is another throwback, with its taut verse and urgent riff bursting into a euphoric chorus as Murray yells: “So how can this wait?/ It’s not enough for us.” But whenever it feels like We Are Scientists are settling into a familiar groove they chuck in a curveball like KIT – a slow-burning emotive rock ballad that weaves in subtle synths with the deftest of touches – or You Failed, one of the few tracks that fails to hit the mark, where the sickly sweet pop aesthetic strays too far and overstays its welcome.
For the most part, though, Megaplex lives up to its billing. Cain said the band wanted to create “something to dance or f**k to,” and they have largely succeeded. The duo very occasionally get stuck on autopilot – see Now Or Never – but the record also sees them take chances and push their sound in plenty of interesting new directions. As a result, it’s probably their most ambitious effort since Brain Thrust Mastery, delivering a sprawling and colourful collection of pop songs which are sure to leave a smile on your face.