Spend any time looking and you’ll see the giant pink lantern from the cover of the first Broken Bells album on the cover of the second—the other elements do little but distract from the fact that it’s basically the same image; the album contained is unfortunately summed up in approximately the same way. The second album from fantastic producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and the Shins’ James Mercer, this album has a lot in common with the first album, except it somehow manages to take everything that worked from the first album and make it exasperatingly redundant here.
Album opener “Perfect World” is indeed the stand out track on the album. But then again, it’s also the first, so perhaps they could have put any of these songs first and we would have enjoyed them. It does everything right, and should have been a great sign for another good album from Broken Bells. The quick beat and Mercer’s lyrics give a sense of urgency and wanting that find resolution in the bridge. But this same pattern fails on the other tracks for a range of reasons.
Tracks like “Leave It Alone” is a song that has a chance to break the rigid structure of the album, but doesn’t quite achieve its goal. It has a garage band aesthetic that seems to be preparing for a big riff-led shift mid-song, but the song can’t quite commit. The big shift we want to release the tension sort of dies off without notice, and instead we just get more lonesome lyrics.
“Lazy Wonderland” will please those that made it that far in the album still looking for something special. The spacey sound effects and simple chord progression make for a thoroughly pleasant and even enjoyable several minutes. But like all the other tracks that have potential, it doesn’t make it anywhere special, and the journey is only marginally more interesting as the journey everywhere else on this album.
Danger Mouse is an incredible producer, but the sci-fi theme of this album actually hampers his usually marvelous aesthetic. The combination of vintage and future creates an amalgamation akin to Back to the Future or Soviet Futurism, which is definitely an interesting concept, but it ends up being more of a bore than an adventure. It’s as if these musicians found a niche, but rather than exploring it, they became trapped in it.
Title track “After the Disco” has all the album’s glitter, but in a remarkably ironic turn, a song where Mercer laments the lack of substance discovered when “after the disco all of the shine just faded away,” because after the 80’s-party-in-deep-space aesthetic is subtracted from these songs, they have almost nothing left. The lyrics feel particularly cliche and safe on this album, and end up being just one more thing on this album that is fine at first, but gives diminishing returns.
Forcing all of your songs to have the same formula is not a good idea for any type of musicians making any type of music. Of course sometimes songs will naturally have similar structures and follow certain patterns, but when they’re all viewed next to each other the variations in the songs end up highlighting how similar they really are. The only real crime on this album is that the songs, which are all good in their own right, are revealed to be surprisingly generic next to their clones.
But the album is good. It’s just remarkably repetitive. While the first album felt fresh and exciting listen after listen, this album wears out rather quickly.
Key Tracks: “Perfect World,” “Lazy Wonderland”
RIYL: Black Keys, the Shins, Jack White