Monday, 16 May 2011

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Belong (Album Review 2011)

Every so often you buy an album based on the strength of one song and quickly discover there is more to the band than you first thought. It happens a lot if you take risks with music. Belong by New York’s The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart is that album and Belong is that song. With a sound very reminiscent of early Smashing Pumpkins on the title track, the diverse album as a whole is more aligned with California surf-pop than Chicago alt-rock and East Coast punk. Driven by the light breezy vocals and Kip Berman and Peggy Wang, Belong is the album that opens the door for The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

Belong kicks off with the title track, a vibrant combination of delicious guitars, and Berman’s androgynous vocals. A soaring chorus highlights the hardships of achieving success: ‘…we struggle on…’. In what is a great opening trilogy, Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now is made in the same mould but with a lighter arrangement and a hook/chorus combination that brings the whole thing to life. Mesmerising guitar-work. One of the highlights of Belong is the gorgeous love-song Heart In Your Heartbreak, filled with wonderful lines like ‘she was the promise that you never swore…’. The central music break is a sublime interlude before Berman is back with more of the same. Wang’s keyboards shine and add depth in the second half right to the close.

The Body opens with more 80’s electronica in a reworking of Ian Curtis guesting at an Erasure gig. Anne With An E sounds like a horrible drug reference and recalls a romance, the slow arrangement echoing the intoxicated subject matter. Just when the album is in danger of stagnating, the brilliant Even In Dreams gets things back on track. Another excellent pop-song, perfectly crafted and delivering the best chorus on the album. “You’re not the only one…you’re just my only one” is elegant in its simplicity. In a song that could have ended at just over three minutes, the band come back for a final minute – showing that a bit of self-indulgence doesn’t do any harm.

Continuing the standard, the drug metaphors (‘What did you take? Coz that’s what I take…and I can’t take it without you’) and more wonderful guitars, My Terrible Friend is another immediate high point. Filled with energy and brimming with exuberance, it takes Belong to a whole new level. Contrary to this, the Jesus And Mary Chain inspired Girl Of 1,000 Dreams, easily the weakest song on the album, sounds very flat and tired. Borrowing just a bit of Radiohead for the melody, Too Tough is another slower delicate track that builds into a respectable shoe-gazer – all control and poise with Berman’s vocals washed to the point of saturation.  And the up-lifting closer Strange continues this theme: ‘Our dreams are coming true…’ sings Berman in what becomes one huge shimmering guitar and drum finale into a massive fade of keyboards.

Belong is a wonderfully likeable and immediate album – in no small part to the involvement of Flood and Alan Moulder. They have guided the band’s evolving sound from an intrepid yet convoluted début (in spite of comparisons to The Jesus And Mary Chain and Joy Division) to a complete package, lifting the guitars and keyboards to add depth to what could have been a very flat production. And when you add much improved song writing to the mix, you have The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and a band with everything to offer and a promising future ahead of them.

No comments: