There. I’ve said it. It’s one of those albums that you want to like more than you do, especially after the critical success of debut ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’. Yet this follow up falls at that clichéd hurdle: the difficult second album. Have the Glaswegian three-piece run out of steam?
That debut has informed the “Chvrches formula” that’s rife across ‘Every Open Eye’. And it goes a little something like this:
Introductory riff that sets up the vibe of the track. Choppy, rhythmic verse. Sometimes a building pre-chorus. Expansive, anthemic chorus. Evocative, atmospheric middle eight. Rinse. Repeat.
Now, this is hardly an original formula of course. In fact, a lot of very good pop is built on it. And Chvrches still make very good pop. It’s just they used to make brilliant pop. Now it’s become formulaic.
Understandably, some of the band’s initial lustre has vanished, but ‘Every Open Eye’ feels like too much of a continuation of their debut as they adhere stoically to this formula. Sonically, too, this new music is all too familiar. It’s bold, crisp and colourful, with a heavy 80s feel. In places it’s filled with intricate details, fizzing with electric spark. In others it feels too clinical, too stark, too obviously aping their influences. And in some tracks (namely Clearest Blue and Bury It) there’s less an influence of Depeche Mode as an outright copy. It suggests a band who have run out of ideas of their own, clinging to their formula and sound.
Part of the appeal of the band’s debut was the juxtaposition of the electronic synth production with singer Lauren Mayberry’s vocal, ever sweet as she spits out venomous lyrics. Much of that grit is missing from this album. As on Bury It with its refrain “bury it and rise above”, the album’s theme is about overcoming the emotional difficulties explored in their first album. Yet it’s those difficulties that lent ‘The Bones…’ its emotional weight. ‘Every Open Eye’, by contrast, is a brighter, more positive album but it’s less arresting and lacks personality.
At least, writing to a formula has allowed the band to create some tightly formed pop. There’s the breathless Leave A Trace; the pulsing, shuddering Keep You On My Side; the fizzing Make Them Gold; and the almost bubblegum appeal of Empty Threat. Individually these are great tracks filled with earworms, but they’re undermined by that repeated formula and lack of emotional punch.
On occasion the band branch out of their confines, but with mixed results. High Enough To Carry You Over features the vocals of Martin Doherty, who fails to ignite the same spark as Mayberry. Down Side Of Me provides a welcome moment of softness, with its repeated mournful mantra of “not the same” over clipped beats – sad-pop at its best. Final track Afterglow also takes a gentle approach with its warm glow of synths, but it comes too late.
For all its failures, this isn’t a bad album by any means but by sticking to an established formula, Chvrches have become criminally predictable. ‘The Bones…’ was an unexpected joy; ‘Every Open Eye’ fails to live up to expectation.
* Leave A Trace
* Empty Threat
* Down Side Of Me
Listen: ‘Every Open Eye’ is available from 25th September.