Review Summary: A delightful album marred from a lack of prickliness or personality.
The problem with Free Energy's second LP is quite plain: they try too hard to be catchy, and that makes them a one-trick pony. When this Philadelphia band showed up with the high-fructose, pleasingly solid Stuck on Nothing
in 2010, the handful of folks who listened to it absolutely loved it, despite its obvious minor flaws. To follow up on such an album, it would have to have an overall better balance than Stuck
did, a fresher sound, and some really fruitful songs. Unfortunately, there's only a few traces of that
in Love Sign, which, for all intents and purposes, should be really good. Its successes and failures as a stand-alone album, as a work of indie pop, as a cultural commentary - for it has both successes and failures in all of these regards - are trivial in light of being the successor to Stuck
, which is its single biggest failure.
Hell, the bar for Love Sign
wasn't even that high: according to the frontman, Paul Sprangers, the album was going to be 'much more clear and amplified, bigger and dumber. Like, *** it, we've got nothing to lose
'. Well, if you're going to take that sort of leap of faith, and have that amount of confidence in your own album, then there's hardly a bad album in the entirety of music that can't be seasoned with some 'big, clear, amplified dumbness'. A pretty harsh response to something that is rarely bad: it is faintly awful, largely because of how damn plain and unmemorable it is. Electric Fever
isn't really the opener this album needs, kicking off with a guitar duel and then leading into a moderate tempo, boosted by a lot of cowbell in the back. It's excessively tepid, but it's got nothing on the album's nadir, direct follow-up Girls Want Rock
, featuring a Cars-esque riff and some godawful lyrics: "Oho, and you don’t ever stop, woho, Punching the midnight clock / Oho, don’t get over the top; Static on the street, don’t stop, bop, bop!
The rest of the album ranges - sometimes it's actually pretty good, sometimes it's bland, but nothing quite reaches the soul-scarring depths of the first two songs, so it deserves some points in its direction. The main problem with the album are its entirely awful lyrics, therefore making the album devoid of any real personality: and it's a shame, because the music can be relatively catchy. Hangin'
is a pretty potent ballad, featuring a heavily power-pop influenced arrangement and Pixy Stix-inspired guitars, but its adjacent slot Street Survivor
is a dreadful banality. Hold You Close
and the light, 5-minute ballad Dance All Night
are the best tracks on the album, musically or otherwise, the former of which featuring a very summery progression that holds a richer tune than most of the other tracks on Love Sign
. Everything else is predominately unmemorable, going along the exact same paradigm (upbeat, enthusiastic tracks with a maddeningly simplistic structure) through the course of its short time. The crunchy, minor-key Time Rolls On
, keyboard-heavy New Wave ballad True Love
, hell, even parts of the really good tracks: it is extremely plain.
So while nothing about it is exceptional, nothing about it is entirely awful: unless you spend time wallowing in the question "how does this stand next to Stuck on Nothing?
", in which its problems become glaring flaws: as major as the way that it lacks any complexity or even ingenuity, or as minor as the fact that it tries so hard to be something it's not (such as Boston, an awkwardly obvious example). It has the occasional grace note every so often, and it is briskly-paced, but it's all superficial, an album that exists both because it can and to feed off the considerable success of Stuck on Nothing
, even though it only has a few intelligent or interesting things to do with itself.