Review Summary: Pop-rock brought back to what it should be.
(Note to the reader - This is a review for the original release of the album with all twelve tracks on, not the later released version with only nine)
Three-piece pop-rock band ‘Brighten’ hail from Chico, California. With their EP ‘Ready When You Are’ under their belt, despite only recently out of high-school, they are already known for their soft, truly pop-rock sound and the distinctive, almost raspy voice of their singer Justin Richards. The band’s sound is emotional, upbeat and very much rock. Their first studio effort named ‘King vs. Queen’ should appeal to fans of their first EP as they’ve kept a similar sound with a few more experimental songs; it even takes two tracks from the EP onto the album. Very polished up versions of the songs ‘Ready When You Are’ and ‘Television’ appear on the album.
‘King vs. Queen’ starts with the short, snappy and energetic ‘More Vacations’, immediately opening with a hook that’ll be in your head all day, the song gives a positive outlook for the rest of the album. It’s happy, head-bob-worthy and can really put anyone in a good mood. However following this song is the rather weak ‘A Heart Like That’, quite probably an attempt to show the band’s diversity in the pop-rock genre, definitely leaning towards the pop side. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. The song holds back the energy the listener received from track one, leaving them probably wondering why their head has stopped bobbing. The song is piano based (something unheard of in the rest of the album or the EP) and really is just pop. It’s good to hear a band’s attempt in exploring their limits, and worth appreciating, but unfortunately this has flopped right onto it’s poppy face. The power of the previous song and songs that follow severely drown it out. I love originality in albums but the formula of rock albums goes: track one - energy, track two - even more energy, track three - slightly less energy. The band should have stuck to this and if they really insisted on keeping the song they should have at least moved it towards the end of the track listing.
But this formula was followed through (minus track two) with the slightly less energetic, slightly more emotional track three ‘Ready When You Are’ (taken from the EP). This is a good song with a lovely sound but the lack of power in track two (if listening to this album straight through) has reflected badly on track three because the listener needed more liveliness before receiving the slightly less energetic track. With the bouncy start to the album continued after track three the album’s momentum is picked back up with great songs like ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Mr. Mister’, maintaining enough bounce to challenge a kangaroo on speed and hooks that could catch sharks, these two songs are likely to be in their live set-lists for a while now.
The more experimental ‘Darling Nicotine’ shows the quieter (not to be confused with ‘poppy’) side of the band. The song slows down the CD’s pace but has a very nice dark presence, showing that the band aren’t all about falling in love and being happy like most pop-rock bands will try to portray. The song finishes with a loud and punchy finale which brings the listener back for the rest of the album. It’s a good attempt at being experimental which makes me believe it is very much worthy of a place on the CD. What this song starts, the last track ‘Why Oh Why’ finishes, both of a similar sound which can unfortunately lead to confusion between two songs.
‘We Chose the King’, ‘Television’ (taken from the EP) and ‘Cops and Robbers’ are previous to the final song and do a good job in holding some form of momentum until the calm final track. Some could consider these tracks filler, but I think these songs are still very much likeable. ‘Single Millionaires’ comes before this, showing singer/guitarist Justin’s acoustic capabilities, the end result being a slightly upbeat and fairly original sound for the only acoustic track on the album.
However, track seven ‘The Better Way’ stands in the limelight. The only single from the album and the rightfully centre song stands out a mile. This song is packed with emotion and hits you like a brick wall, it is a reminder of what this band, as well as what pop rock is all about – emotion, heavy beats and power chords. Justin’s occasionally raspy voice is the icing on the cake for this song, it’s sing-a-long worthy and the lyrics aren’t forced or cliché, which is safe to say an impressive theme throughout the album. The track does what ‘Friends For Lovers’ did for their EP.
‘Friends for Lovers’ brings me to my next point. Where is it? The band have clearly taken the opportunity to re-record some of the songs from the EP and put them on this album but they’ve missed out the star of the EP. ‘Friends For Lovers’ goes neck and neck with ‘The Better Way’ for the title of their best song, and this could have been a fantastic addition to the album. The song could have easily replaced ‘Television’, if the problem was they didn’t want to take too many from their older effort. Yet it remains in its loveable but rougher sounding quality back on their EP.
Overall, Brighten have released a solid album. The songs won’t fade with time and a plus for the album is that most of the song titles aren’t simply the hook of the chorus. (For me this shows a reluctance to follow mainstream pop acts and is definitely a positive aspect of the band.) It’s easy to say which songs are better than others but it doesn’t mean the others aren’t good songs. I think this is a good album, of course it’s not a classic but it’s an easy listen and will understandably be in some people’s top album list. For a young band, Brighten have done a fantastic job of keeping most of their old fans and gaining new ones as well with the high quality and original sound of the songs on ‘King vs. Queen’.
Recommendations: ‘The Better Way’, ‘Mr. Mister’ and ‘Treasure Island’.