Roundtable: CHVRCHES – Love Is Dead

by Stephen Ong, Brett Dickinson

"Very listenable, nothing terrible but lacking the dazzle CHRVCHES strive for and so often provide" - two of our writers have middling feelings about the synth-pop trio's latest effort.

Stephen Ong:

The build-up preceding the release of Love Is Dead turned one of my most anticipated albums of 2018 into my least. CHVRCHES are by no means the best band of the decade, but the impact their debut had on indie and pop music is undeniable. Yet, instead of setting trends, the band finds themselves chasing them on Love Is Dead.

Everything about the album spelled disaster – the faux-emo title, its tasteless art, the declining quality of singles, and worst of all, their comments on the album, that it would be quintessentially CHVRCHES at their most confident, revolving around the political struggle of today. The songs, on paper, sound good – Get Out was a banger, My Enemy featured two of my favourite singers, and Never Say Die was pop-punk wrapped in synths. However, none of the songs clicked – they did not have the urgency that made their songs so appealing. Finally, the irredeemable Imagine Dragons-esque chorus of Miracle had me writing off the album as a trainwreck.

Or so I thought. Love Is Dead opens with one of CHVRCHES’s strongest songs (and probably the best on the record), Graffiti. It’s a soaring pop song rivalling The Mother We Share. In fact, bar Miracle and the Martin-fronted God’s Plan, there are no duds on the album – Deliverance is a Rihanna-inspired song, while Forever is complete with live drums and a guitar outro. The singles, while not album highlights, remain listenable, and in context of the album seem much more urgent.

In the end, the album far exceeded my expectations. Lauren’s lyrics have taken a nosedive (see Never Say Die and Heaven/Hell), but the band shines when they embrace pop and have never sounded so explosive before. And though the sound of Love Is Dead is derivative, and a couple of the songs, along with the pacing of the album are clear missteps, it’s an enjoyable listen that adds to CHVRCHES’s already large catalogue of huge, energetic songs. It’s a good album – don’t let the singles put you off.

Individual Rating: 3.5/5

Picks: Graffiti, Deliverance, Forever, Graves, Wonderland

 

Brett Dickinson

Every Open Eye, CHVRCHES previous album, was brilliant synth-pop; vibrant, bouncy, alive and catchy while avoiding being samey (which can be a bit of an issue with the genre sometimes). Love is Dead has the potential to match Every Open Eye but falls a bit short in originality, moving towards the pop centre at the expense of distinctiveness. Part of this identi-swap probably falls at the feet of producer Greg Kurstin having self-produced their previous albums. Kurstin has 5 Grammy’s so he obviously knows how to be successful however there is an element on the album of a seeking the formula for greater success at the expense of what got them here in the first place.

This is not to denigrate the album too much, it’s a passable effort. Lauren Mayberry still has a cracking voice well-suited for pulsating choruses and the production is (unsurprisingly) polished. Graffiti and Get Out start the album off with a bounce while Graves would not be out of place on Open Every Eye. Really Gone shows something different from Mayberry after a demanding album, and Wonderland ends the album on a high. Sadly too many songs verge on being really good and are subsequently let down by a poor chorus or annoying repetition such as Miracle which starts strong and quickly fades, or Never Say Die which should be good but is a little too repetitive. Forever showcases the slightly cliché lyrics which have often haunted CHVRCHES but without the saving graces some of their other songs have managed and God’s Plan sung by Martin Doherty rather than Mayberry, shows why Lauren Mayberry is the lead singer of CHVRCHES, Doherty sounding slightly at odds with the style.

Love is Dead is a brave title for any album, and whilst strong statements are part of CHVRCHES identity, by the end of listening you’re left with the conclusion that the band’s reflection on society’s “death of empathy” has subordinated to cold hard attempts to raise listening numbers. I called it passable earlier and it’s a fitting description, very listenable, nothing terrible but lacking the dazzle CHRVCHES strive for and so often provide.

Individual Rating: 3/5

Picks: Graves, Wonderland, Graffiti

Rating: 3.3/5