Lightspeed Champion - Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2010-02-15

Album number two from Dev Hynes' successful reinvention after the implosion of Test Icicles comes with the sense that he's still trying out different models for his singer-songwriter role. Ambitious opening track 'Dead Head Blues' evolves from a lachrymose string-drenched acoustic lament into a full-on power ballad. Despite the histrionics, it remains sweetly affecting, with Hynes singing "I know your happy/and that's lovely", although a probably unintentionally funny moment comes at the end when, thanks to Hynes' rather affected, whiny delivery, it sounds like he's singing about his 'dickhead blues'.

As on his solo debut, Falling off Lavender Bridge, there's a variety of musical styles on show. 'There's Nothing Underwater', for instance, saunters from country'n'western ballad territory, complete with banjo and fiddle, to something close to calypso and then back again. What remains constant throughout is Hynes' overblown romantic sentiment, which is present in both his singing voice and his song-craft. In fact, not since the falsetto croon of Suede's Brett Anderson bestrode the UK charts has anyone released a body of work so unapologetically, giddily romantic.

It makes Life is Sweet… a heady listen. Songs like 'Faculty of Fears' and first single 'Marlene' unfold as opulently swooning, tremulous anthems of the kind The Cure specialised in circa 'Friday I'm in Love'. It's hard not to get swept up in such knee-trembling abandon, especially since it's so much fun. Sometimes, however, Hynes doesn't quite have the songwriting chops to back up the ramped-up emotion. 'Marlene' has a funky verse and a melodramatic chorus but can't quite manage to tie the two together. The lighters-aloft torch song 'I Don't Want to Wake Up Alone', meanwhile, shoots its load too quickly, leaving it with nowhere to go.

At 15 tracks, Life is Sweet…, is also too long and really could have done with some judicious pruning. The gimmicky likes of 'Intermission 1' and 'Intermission 2' could easily have been junked, since such overcrowding makes it a little harder to pick out such classics as 'Smooth Day (at the Library)', originally included on the EP Album in a Day 2. Here it forms the point at which the album's disparate strands come together for a dreamy, drifting lullaby that could be an outtake from Air's Moon Safari, over which Hynes perfectly pitches his yarning vocal. The outbreak of baroque plucked stings towards the end is a moment of inspired genius. Its unfussy soul vibe suits Hynes down to the ground and suggests he could have something similar to The Love Below by Outkast's Andre 3000 stored up inside him. If he's looking to pluck a direction for his future work from the selection of fizzy, gaudy sweets that make up this album, this should be it.

Richard Morris

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