2 Bears - The Night Is Young

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2014-10-13

Beneath its goofy grooves, The 2 Bears’ 2012 debut Be Strong had a surprising darkness and depth to it. Jokey, light-hearted numbers like ‘Bear Hug’ and ‘Warm and Easy’ were balanced by the real-world likes of ‘Work’ and ‘Get Together’, creating a collection of songs which were political and humane, as well as a whole lot of fun. It was indisputably one of the albums of that year.

Album number two was partly recorded in Cape Town and that burst of sunshine has definitely infected the tunes but, oddly, hasn’t really filtered through to the subject matter. Sometimes this combination works a treat, but sometimes the result are, well…

Take third track ‘Money Man’, which includes the lyric: “Give up, give up/ cos we’re under attack/ and the money man wants to break your back.” This ranks as pretty much the only overt political statement I’ve heard in music in 2014, and here it is yoked to the kind of ultra-saccharine pop-reggae tune that’d make Peter Andre gip. I appreciate the sentiment, I really do, but when good old Raf Rundell starts yowling in a cod-patois voice, I just can’t listen to it anymore.

Thankfully, that is the worst of it and the quality improves drastically on the declamatory disco of ‘Not This Time’. There’s something really wonderful about hearing a big heterosexual man like Rundell make like Gloria Gaynor on an anthem about walking away from a twisted relationship with your head held high, and playing it totally straight (no pun intended).

Other album highlights such as the excellent opener, ‘Get Out’, and ‘Angel (Touch Me)’ follow the same template, which brings to the fore another change for in the duo’s songwriting. Where, on their debut, the personal was political, here it’s mostly just personal. The subject matter revolves around love: wanting it, needing it, losing it, walking away from it.

Add to this the fact that Rundell has largely dropped the gruff, sometimes pitch-shifted yap he used on Be Strong in favour of bruised emoting which sometimes sounds blustery and strained and you can’t help feeling that a little of what made The 2 Bears so magic the first time around has been lost. It’s not so much a more mature record, just a bit more pedestrian.

Still, the music is reliably excellent. ‘Get Back’ evolves from hushed intro into swooping disco drama before it returns after a false ending as a hard-edged club banger. ‘See You’ is body-popping electro, while ‘Run Run’ is dense, semi-acoustic electronica. The album ends on a particularly strong note with the beat-heavy ‘My Queen’, the immediately lovable title track, which boasts a winning combination of slide-guitar and xylophone, and the farewell lullaby, ‘Sleepwalking’.

Best of the bunch is ‘Mary Mary’, a lovely, gently psychedelic sample-fest which recalls The Chemical Brothers’ more blissed-out moments as well as The Orb’s classic ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’. However, the fact it’s also an instrumental says something not so positive about other tracks here.

With Be Strong, The 2 Bears confounded all those who labelled them a novelty act. Yet, in the best possible way, there was real novelty about their music: the way they hid genuine heart and surprising darkness in a series of irresistible party anthems was something really special. That they were able to turn their hands to myriad dance styles, from house to hip hop to dub, was pretty fucking mint as well.

The Night is Young is not by any stretch a bad album, but it lacks both the content and the (here’s that word again, and I seriously mean it in a positive way) novelty of Be Strong. I still believe in The 2 Bears, but I want a bit more than what's on offer here. 

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