The Big Pink A Brief History of Love

[4AD; 2009]

Styles:  shoegaze
Others: Alec Empire, Syd Barrett, Merok

The Big Pink’s name is either a reference to The Band’s first album or some kind of dick joke. Most likely, it’s the latter. The London duo’s debut, A Brief History of Love, is, as you’d expect, a collection of songs about relationships — well, fucking at least — set to a shitgaze backdrop, split pretty evenly by catchiness and boredom.

“Crystal Visions” is a promising start, with huge, epic guitars countered by minimal drumming and bass. The song fades into its grandiosity, but it’s a well-constructed build-up that's so nice you barely notice that it takes a minute and a half for singer Robbie Furze (ex-Alec Empire guitarist) to spew, “She’s got lightning in her hand,” most certainly making a crack about getting jerked off. It’s impossible not to read sex into all of the songs, and it’s even harder not to treat the topic as something wholly dispensable and comic.

For instance: “These girls fall like dominos,” Furze sings on “Dominos,” a song that will most assuredly drive you crazy when you hear it for the millionth time in some fucking grocery store in the middle of nowhere six months from now. That’s the problem with the group’s catchier moments — they’re too meticulous, too crafted. “Dominos,” with its almost embarrassingly catchy chorus, sounds like The Sleeper Hit of the Fall, even on the first listen. You can smell the shit grin coming from behind it all, like The Big Pink know they’ve written a hit, and it transforms the music into more of a publicity stunt than what it really is: a decent, if only a little stupid, dance song.

In spite of the flaws, the catchy pop on the album is charming all the same, but the group’s softer moments, in which the veil of dirty sexual imagery is lifted to reveal wretchedly weak songwriting, are just plain bad. “Love In Vain,” the heartbreak song, is the most tedious track here, clumsily stumbling along for four minutes with the group’s least interesting melody and an even worse lyric: “If you really love him, tell me that you love him again,” Furze sings. The song sounds like The Jesus and Mary Chain with all the reverb taken away and an infuriating synth pad taking over the part of the guitars. It’s too minimal, too clear for its own good.

As ballad writers, The Big Pink morph into an emo band, in both form and content. It’s not Drive Like Jehu emo either, but All-American Rejects emo. That amount of sappiness — that complete lack of restraint — is almost fascinating to hear on an album so obsessed with British shoegaze, but ultimately, the three big ballads here -- “Love in Vain,” “Velvet,” and “A Brief History of Love” -- stop the album dead in its tracks. “Velvet” especially, a song so melancholy that it destroys any confidence in Furze’s sleazy, sexy voice, contains lyrics straight from the diary of a 14-year-old. “I found her in a dream/ Looking for me.”

Yet, for all their melodramatic absurdity, The Big Pink have moments of pure audacity that result in monumental — though still laughable — successes. “Tonight” has the boldness to steal the melody from “Stand By Me,” of all things, and it’s so ridiculous it works. The song walks the so-bad-it’s-funny line, but ultimately falls just on the side of tasteful. Thankfully, a lot of the album does too, making A Brief History of Love into a real carnival of a mess, completely inconsistent, sometimes really horrifying, and, more often than not, entertaining.

1. Crystal Visions
2. Too Young to Love
3. Dominos
4. Love in Vain
5. At War With the Sun
6. Velvet
7. Golden Pendulum
8. Frisk
9. A Brief History of Love
10. Tonight
11. Countbackwards From Ten

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