Review Summary: For better or worse.
Full disclosure: I am a We Are Scientists apologist. Many thought their 2005 sophomore effort (the one that catapulted them into the tastemaking light) was a blatant post-punk rip-off, aping the Rapture, the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, etc. etc. down the line until you arrived at a band with barely any identity of their own. I, of course, ate them up, largely on the strength of their fantastic singles, Keith Murray’s ironic/hilarious lyrics, and Michael Tapper’s ridiculously far-out-of-their-league drumming. The things I came to hate about the band were all there in the beginning though; how the second half of the album lacked anything even approaching the brilliance of the first; how things started to blur together into rapid-fire choruses and busy drum work with no substance and a rented style; how Murray sounded pretty damn disinterested by the time all was said and done. Brain Thrust Mastery
toed the same line, with some truly amazing singles (“After Hours” is the
let’s’-go-to-a-bar-and-do-terrible-things anthem) and an album that predictably lost steam. Did I still jam out to the first few songs on a regular basis? Hell yes.
Full disclosure: I hate Barbara
. I was excited when I heard former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows was set to take the kit permanently for the band, and he is a revelation here, as anyone whose listened to Up All Night
could probably guess. We Are Scientists could be just another post-punk band with a clever singer, but like Tapper before him, Burrows puts an indelible stamp on proceedings here, lending martial beats and inventive rhythms and providing a supportive framework that is right up there with The Devendorf. And it’s still not enough. The band has always been able to pump out catchy tunes with ease, but the question must be asked: how catchy does a tune have to be to stay with you? “After Hours” was; “This Scene Is Dead” was; “Rules Don’t Stop” is catchy, sure, but I don’t see it gnawing at my brain for the next couple of weeks. In fact, there’s not a single song here that latches onto you the way their previous singles did, a deal breaker if there ever was one for a band that has long struggled to keep the interest up over the course of an entire album. Murray is still singing about the same things, spouting off late-20s night-life platitudes in “Jack and Ginger” and “I Don’t Bite” that should appeal to the partier in me but fall flat instead. Songs began to flow into one another, mildly up tempo sing-a-longs downshifting into slightly jittery mid tempo tunes about romance, breakups, and drinking. Lots of drinking.
Full disclosure: I love Barbara
. Being the We Are Scientists apologist that I am this album has been on repeat for an entire week and I’m starting to fall for it, all its blemishes and interchangeable parts be damned. For one, it’s consistent, something I never thought I’d see from a Scientists record but one that I guess I should have seen coming, considering Murray loves repeating himself. The hooks are there the entire way through, from “Rules Don’t Stop” to “Central AC.” Of course they’re not as good as the band’s earlier highlights, but the sequence of “Break It Up” to “Central AC” is probably the best stretch in their history, particularly the shimmering comedown of “Foreign Kicks” and the addictive chorus of “You Should Learn.” And I’ll be honest with myself – there’s not a bad tune among the bunch, although “Ambition” teeters dangerously close to self-parody. “Rules Don’t Stop” isn’t a bad single – I could think of a number of bands that would kill for a single that catchy, not to mention one as good as “Nice Guys,” or “Break It Up,” or “Jack and Ginger.” This is what We Are Scientists do, and far be it from me to stop them from doing what they do best (and they do it quite well) just because I’m sick of Murray’s shallow lyrics and regular verse-chorus-verse hit machines. Barbara
is pure We Are Scientists, and in the context of the band’s discography, it’s hopelessly unoriginal but undoubtedly strong, the kind of record that will either have you tearing out your hair in frustration at a band that showed so much promise or singing along in your car to a CD chock-full of superb sing-a-longs.
My mother always said if two sides can never agree on something, a compromise is in order. 6/10