Review Summary: Post-party malaise
It’s difficult to say what exactly about Middle Kids I find so appealing. When I first heard ‘Questions’, I rolled my eyes. The folksy handclaps, the post-chorus explosion of brass. Everything about the song felt like too much. By the time I revisited it, though, much later, and much lighter, I found myself bopping along—unable not to. I was deeply engrossed in and enamoured by Hannah Joy’s sad, uncertain narrative; the confidence with which she delivers it; and the seamlessness with which she weaves it into and through the song’s greater indie pop-rock structure.
There isn’t a lot to analyse about Today We’re the Greatest
. As fun and infectious as ‘Questions’ is early-album stomper ‘R U 4 Me?’, whose percussive strums and quick, heavy gait bring to mind debut-era Imagine Dragons, a more upbeat Mumford & Sons. (Don’t let this turn you off; Middle Kids accomplish a great deal more.) Elsewhere, there is ‘I Don’t Care’, the band’s tightest composition to date—synthy stadium rock, almost all chorus, a 10-second guitar solo—and ‘Cellophane (Brain)’, which brings to mind the hazy, indie rock epics that brought the band to prominence to begin with.
It’d be a disservice, though, to dismiss the album (or, even, embrace it) as nothing more than mindless fun. Save for penultimate ‘Stacking Chairs’—a satisfying synthesis of the band’s two modes—most of the singles are buried toward its beginning. Left open is a space for much tenderer moments. ‘Lost in Los Angeles’, which kicks things off, evokes acoustic-era Hayley Williams, and in doing so embodies the quintessential banjo ballad. Likewise, ‘Some Stay in Our Hearts’ is a demonstration of just how thoughtfully Middle Kids are capable of building a song—one that is as direct and immediate as the band’s peppiest, though which unfurls with ample patience and reflective deliberation.
Titular closer ‘Today We’re the Great’ is as triumphant as its name suggests. Said triumph, however, is viewed through and arrived at from something of a haziness, an immutable lethargy. Joy comes to the simultaneous conclusion that while today we’re the greatest, “life is gory and boring sometimes”. The latter pronouncement is, perhaps ironically, the album’s prettiest. But it’s a sentiment that colours even its boldest, least concerned moments. It’s not that sadness or uncertainty don’t exist in the Middle Kids universe, as in our universe; it’s that they can co-exist—do co-exist—with folksy handclaps, post-chorus brass, and an image of Hannah Joy dancing through dejective sighs.