Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Days of Abandon

by Al Brown Rating:6 Release Date:2014-05-13

As a man of logic, I've always been a fan of that pervasive explanation for all the crap second albums in the world: the old cliche about having two decades to write your debut and only two years for the followup. It's just so neat and mathematically sensible, right? I like all the other explanations too: in short order, the unbearable pressure which follows the hit debut; the Sophie's Choice of 'going experimental' or retreading old ground; and the constant fear that internet tastemakers will have moved on from your weak shit anyway. The phrase 'Like the debut, but better', is one that haunted my youth, describing, as it did, pretty much every sophomore slump in every shiny, coke-addled rag I read as a kid – it always meant: “Like the debut, but much, much worse. However, the record company let us on their yacht this time, so fuck you, kid.” I have an entrenched suspicion of second albums – the low expectations which should cosset me from their mediocrity just never seem to be quite low enough.

That's where much of my love for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart comes from. Their second album was strident. They had catchy songs, great songs, on the first one but the second was outright hookarama; bare-facedly emotive and evocative – every chord change, every loud/quiet shift timed to heartstring-tugging perfection. It really was like the first one, but better. Better in the most obvious ways without ever becoming tacky.

This time around, lead single '

' is classic Pains, pulling out those sweet singalong melodies and yearning lyrics and putting them front and centre. There's not much to it but as always, there doesn't need to be. 'Kelly' is a slight departure; it's catchy again, but this time the synthesised xylophone and handclaps evoke 80s chart-pop while the guitarist and bassist do their best Marr/Rourke impression. It also features lead vocals from a new recruit, Jen Goma of A Sunny Day in Glasgow.

And one of my reservations about this album is Goma. While she can hold a tune (which is more than could

for Peggy Wang), there just isn't much character coming through. To analyse a little further, my theory is that for this kind of uber-plaintive, lovelorn music, you really need a singer with at least some idiosyncrasies. If you're going to buy in to this whole heartbreak fantasy, you need a believable narrator to guide you through it.

The Pains' driving force, and primary singer, Kip Berman, is a bit of an American Stuart Murdoch. He lisps and sighs but also has moments of surprising conviction: and it's those moments that are the heartstring tuggers; that make you think, “Yes, Kip, you will get the girl, just don't give up man!” So the more inscrutable vocals of Goma don't quite cut it, but she only sings lead on a couple of songs, so the search for the core of this album's underwhelmingness continues.

My take is that while second album Belong was, as I've already mentioned, strident, full of confidence and conviction, this one is a bit wishy-washy. 'Kelly' is followed up by 'Beautiful You', which, while pretty enough in that familiar Curesque way, gets hung up on its own somnolent mood and, consequently, outstays its welcome by about three minutes. In this interview, Berman says he wanted to make songs that would be just as effective played acoustic in small room as with tons of effects, but in reality it's hard to even imagine how, say, 'Eurydice', which features multiple synth layers (organ, handclaps etc) would fare, especially when Goma (presumably) comes in with her stadium-filling, Cher-esque backing vocal.

Another disappointment is that this is the first Pains album which sounds noticeably less interesting than the records that inspired it. The debut was a C86/Jesus & Mary Chain thing whose best songs were, refreshingly, as good as anything any of those bands produced. Belong is the Smashing Pumpkins album that's miles better than any actual Smashing Pumpkins album.

Days of Abandon is a jangle-pop record in fine Smiths/Go-Betweens tradition, but it fails to go toe-to-toe with its influences in the way its predecessors did.

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