What, you can’t give a bad review to Chvrches? Mayberry and The Two Synth Dudes can’t be that powerful, can they? This band had, what, one surprise hit album maybe five summers ago? Then a less successful one maybe two summers ago? And now a final desperate pop move that obviously won’t propel them to headline font on any festival bills? And then probably two summers from now a failed Mayberry solo record? And then the plunge into ether? In the surely misquoted words of Jay Z: “I can divide, and that’s one hot record every ten years average.” So why does Lauren Mayberry get a “Get Out Of A Bad Review Even Though We Obviously Don’t Like The Record” pass? We’ll leave that question to the music industry conspiracy/Illuminati enthusiasts and just concentrate on this tepid, toeing-the-line, “you can do better but we can’t really go there with you” review.
Any one of these sentences would be shot-through-the-heart killers in any review of any other band without a textbook-woke PR Darling lead singer:
“On Love Is Dead, Chvrches misjudge the moment a few different ways.”
They don’t just misjudge the moment in one way, but in a few different ways, dude! That’s an awful lot of misjudging going on! Especially for a record that gets a respectful (not good, but respectful) 6.3 rating. Highly suspect indeed.
“A Chvrches song used to make you gasp”
The implication here being, of course, that these songs on this record no longer make you gasp. This one is a real killer. Not even a sneak dis. A “You just don’t do it for me anymore” breakup text from someone who used to be a fan. Harsh, Laura, harsh.
“It’s strange that they should let outside producers in for the first time.”
Anybody care for a nice cup of Scottish career slide desperation?
“Much of Love Is Dead is stout and uncomplicated.”
Yea, that’s a compliment anyone would love to hear right there.
“Chvrches have always been a smart pop band that is now, for some reason, second-guessing its instincts.”
Oh snap. Once a band starts tripping over its own feet, those bells start chiming loudly.
“The dazzling parts of a Chvrches song transcend a clichéd lyric but the lack of spectacle here makes the clichés glare.”
This one really hurts. No artist wants to be dealing in clichés (unless you happen to be Gucci Mane, who somehow flips them into new realms. But, Lauren Mayberry, you are not now and never have been Gucci Mane).
And then there’s the run-on sentence that would be the final execution shot between the eyes for any review that wasn’t trying so, so hard to find points of light within what is obviously a poorly executed record:
“Whereas Chvrches sounded futuristic when they first emerged, it’s this lack of softness on Love Is Dead that makes it sound dated upon arrival”
Love Is Dead is dead on arrival, baybee! DOA! Dear god, Laura Snapes, you missed a fantastic opportunity for a snarky Pitchfork quotable right there. Ian Cohen would have reached for that. This is the worst blown quote opportunity since Ryan Adams named an album Gold (Adams goes for gold, comes up with pennies, anyone?) And this points to the main frustrating thing with this review. There’s a really good 4.6 dagger review encoded in its DNA, but for some reason Laura just isn’t allowing herself, or isn’t allowed by her PR-conscious bosses, to really go for it.
Instead we get sportsmanship trophy compliment stretches like: “Mayberry invokes names youthfully scrawled on a bathroom wall as a vivid metaphor for the precariousness of her generation’s future.” So even the “high points” are complete clichés? Then Snapes gets right down to the dirty business of flailing in the dark trying to justify a poorly executed album from an artist she clearly wishes had put out a sparkling gem instead: “Maybe it’s a case of attempting to simplify the medium to amplify the message.” With the key word here being “attempting”. Now we’re just making excuses for Lauren Mayberry. She was trying to be blunt! Trimming the excess! Her “message” is all the clearer now and ready for every open eye to see! This would be fine if you hadn’t just spent an entire paragraph letting us know how hollow and clichéd that “message” rings on this record. Plus, if this bluntness is coming at the expense of all those sparkly, blissful pieces of excess that had you in such awe on their first record, then this record is a complete misstep and not a polite 6.3, right? But Snapes just keeps tripping over her own feet while attempting to justify this thing. A justifier line like: “Her insistence on standing for what is right and never turning a blind eye also reads as a fight to resist desensitization, a powerful theme for a pop record” is followed with the clearest of deflations: “But Love Is Dead often sounds desensitized”. So the record fights desensitization but sounds desensitized? Either Mayberry is going way meta on our asses or her new record just isn’t good. The fact that Snapes can’t come right out and say it, spending the entire column trying to get out of the way of her own criticisms, points to either editorial interference or an unwillingness to accept reality on the critic’s end. Either one is worrying and spells nothing but doom for this review.
Lauren Mayberry is someone that Pitchfork clearly stans for. They obviously want her ascending to The Culture’s top tier, remaining willfully ignorant of the aspects that will forever hold her back from getting there (lack of edge, bad rock star stage poses, hooks that don’t quite get over, a hollow and confused message jammed with by-the-book wokeness that lacks conviction). As a matter of fact, if you cut out just sixteen or so sentences in this review, you have an Ian Cohen career-killing piece. You can tell that Snapes had the instinct to take it there but held herself back. “Can I really dis on Lauren Mayberry? But she hasn’t even said or done anything controversial! And the blogs that championed her haven’t even turned on her yet! And I’m supposed to like her, right?” Yes, you have indeed been commanded to root for Lauren Mayberry by the cultural watchdogs, but the emperor’s clothes are steadily fraying and you’ve missed a prime opportunity to expose them.