Ah, the dreaded sophomore slump. It is a curse that is inflicted upon many a band, most typically those that are desperate to repeat the success of their debut. If you look at bands like The Strokes and Interpol, both essentially took the blueprint of their first record and followed it to a T with startlingly solid results. Sometimes your sound works well enough to keep it going for a bit without people getting tired of it. Still others fear for their safety, knowing fans want and expect constant innovation and evolution, so there will be a radical sonic shift in a different direction that will either be massively successful or smell of failure. Then you have a band like The Big Pink. Success came rather easy to them, with their 2009 debut album A Brief History of Love earning accolades even while a single like “Dominos” was smartly and deceptively stupid. If that record taught them anything, it was that having a huge, easy to remember chorus brings in people from all walks of life in search of something they can sing along to. As such, their follow-up Future This sees The Big Pink putting aside some of the more artistic adventures of their first album in the hopes of becoming a stadium-sized pop band. If you were hoping to be beaten over the head with a large musical stick, welcome to your new favorite record.
In crafting Future This, the duo of Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell decided to go with a “beats first” approach. That is, they would come up with a beat they liked and would subsequently craft an entire song around it. They started to push forward with the idea that this might very well be a more “hip hop” record than anything else, but the end product certainly doesn’t reflect that, though certainly most of the tracks could be re-worked and remixed with that sort of edge to it. Guitars are hard to come by on this album as well, with the electronic elements and synths handling almost the entirety of the compositional bits. Only “Lose Your Mind” features some heavy riffage courtesy of the only guitar solo on the entire record. The lack of guitars isn’t exactly a bad thing as most everything sounds fine without them, but there are times when you’re left wondering if the blandness of some of the tracks could have benefited from a little extra instrumental spice.
Given that the band is shooting for the stars and appears to be actively seeking greater mainstream acceptance, much of Future This is dedicated to songs in the key of “Dominos”. Opening cut “Stay Gold” is perhaps the closest they come to copying that, so much so that you can pretty much insert the chorus fo “Dominos” in as a replacement and barely have a difference. Of course it’s catchy and moderately enjoyable as well, so it’s not all bad. Following that up is “Hit the Ground (Superman)”, which is most notable for its sampling of the relatively obscure avant-garde 1981 song “O Superman” from Laurie Anderson. Repurposed into a power ballad, it makes for a potential hit, though clocking in at nearly 5 minutes long it outstays its welcome by about 90 seconds. There are a few genuinely creative moments on the album, such as “The Palace (So Cool)”, which has a slow build and doesn’t take the easiest available sonic avenue. Furze is also provided with a chance to stretch a little more vocally, which he takes full advantage of to good effect. The mournful album closer “77” also does very well for itself, cutting away the loose party vibe of the rest of the record for a shot of genuine emotion. There’s piano and strings to accent the slow pulse beat and synths as well, bringing the right air of sentimentality in without being too overbearing. Credit goes to Paul Epworth and his production work for putting the right spin on not only that track, but the entire record, which could very well have come off as overly polished and bombastic.
One of the biggest pluses that A Brief History of Love had going for it was in spite of the many huge melodies spread out across that vast plain of an album, it still had some nuance and character to it. You could strap on some headphones and enjoy it nearly as much as you would were it blasting out of huge speakers at a stadium or beach party. That is, in essence, what Future This lacks. The Big Pink don’t sound completely whitewashed on their sophmore record, just less interested in personality and charisma this time. They’re seemingly aiming for bigger and better, but only got the first part right. And as well-fitting as this album might be for remixing thanks to the beats that permeate each and every song, it’d be far more helpful if the duo would put a little effort into actually writing some halfway decent lyrics. Coming up with an easily singable hook simply will not satisfy when it comes down to brass tax. Not only that, but even the most mindless moments on Future This, the ones clearly intended to bring the band greater popularity, don’t appear to be working their charms thus far. Sure, it’s far too early to write off this band and this record as a failure, but maybe if it is they’ll actually learn from the experience and come back stronger than ever.