Fast Romantics - American Love

by Jon Burke Rating:6 Release Date:2017-04-28

Sonic descriptors like “huge” and “anthemic” are rarely paired with lyrical signifiers like “cynical” and “introspective”. This is true mostly because it’s a challenge to get ten thousand fans to own their complicity in social injustice during a mid-set sing-a-long. Bruce Springsteen is one of the rare artists who can pull off the high wire act that is writing a politically complex song which is also thrilling in its scope and yet completely accessible to the average listener. The new Fast Romantics album, American Love, has such Springsteenian aspirations and despite a few missteps, and an almost too-clean production style, the Toronto-based six-piece is mostly successful in being Bruuuuce-lite.

To say American Love’s opener, “Everybody’s Trying to Steal Your Heart”, wears it’s inspiration on its sleeve would be an understatement. Right down to the chiming glockenspiel, this Canadian banger is an attempt to capture both the sound and the magic of “Born to Run”. Where Bruce was merely nodding at Phil Spector with his anthem of youthful rebellion, Fast Romantics head into Robin Thicke, ‘is it homage or theft?’, territory with theirs. This isn’t to say that “Everybody’s Trying to Steal Your Heart” is a bad song because it most certainly is not but simply to note this has all been done before and done better. In 2017 if you’re going to blatantly rip-off The Boss, avoid his masterworks. Instead, stick to aping the more accessible, less distinctive, tracks which at this point in time are so much more deserving of homage.

Things improve drastically with “Why We Fight” which, somehow, is another “Born to Run” homage but this time it’s not clunky. It’s smoother and livelier and lyrically more adept. The song seems to be a Canadian rumination on blue collar American politics – apparently Americans drunkenly brawl in bars and go home to watch the war on television. Fast Romantics seem to think Americans are all very jingoistic, unhinged and confused. At one point Fast Romantics’ frontman, Matthew Angus, even croons: “I love you violently/ until the dawn’s early light”. Apparently Angus was influenced by both a passionate love affair and the U.S. elections when writing the lyrics for the album – an odd combo that leads one to ponder the privilege inherent in the “civilized” Canadian vantage point on the wave of nationalism subsuming the world today.

The album’s title track “American Love” is a synth-heavy, John Hughes-esque, affair about a couple who fall into a love so dramatic, and cinematic, that Angus is required to deploy references to the Revolutionary War and the lyrics of Francis Scott Key in order to do it justice. It’s all very heavy handed but also incredibly lovely pop music. In much the same vein, “Get Loved” is an immensely catchy love tune about the lengths Angus would go to obtain and keep love. The most frustrating element of these tracks is their vagueness. Many of the tracks on American Love seem directly inspired by the generic “indie” music of bands like Coldplay or Mumford & Sons which results in a toothless, often forgettable, sound.

One of the albums best tracks, “Ready for the Night” jumps off with a four-on-the-floor beat and a driving bassline. The song’s dark lyrical content (“the night” being complete societal collapse/death-by-Trump) pairs quite well with its upbeat sound. The whole song swells with Angus crooning “I’m ready for the night!” over and over with a chorus of female voices backing him. It’s a beautiful outro and highlights what Fast Romantics do best – a kind of cynical-but-poppy, blue-eyed soul. The Phil Spector drum fills on “Radio Waves” and the massive, incredibly catchy, singalong chorus of “Julia” only serve to reaffirm Fast Romantics’ firm grip on the best conventions of 1960s soul.

The album closes with “Heaven’s Alright” which seems to be an appropriation of the ‘it’s-all-so-perfect-its-boring’ sentiment of Talking Heads’ “Heaven” mixed with a heavy-handed political message about the dangers of complacency in the Trump era. It ends in a soaring, horn-heavy, conclusion almost too reminiscent of The National’s “England”. It’s all very hip, self-aware and ultimately fleeting – a sentence that could describe much of this record. It’s not bad, by any means, but it’s also not good enough on the whole to matter much.

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