Review Summary: The comfort of treading water
While I don’t doubt that beabadoobee’s use of 90s alternative rock tropes is genuine and well-intentioned, I can’t help but think it also partially stems from her resentment of the song that made her big in the first place. After all, the music she makes today is such a far cry from 2017’s “Coffee” that it’s honestly quite jarring. Sure, her newer material still has its share of acoustic guitar and cosy coffeehouse vibes, but the… well, let’s call it Jack Johnson-ness, of the debut single has never reappeared in her discog. And considering it got popularized as a sample for an abysmal song by “rapper” (using that term very
generously) Powfu, who the hell can blame her? I would start looking for inspiration elsewhere too, if I knew that was my claim to fame. Of course, she’s also been hit with accusations of nostalgia-baiting and unoriginality due to the 90s influence mentioned above, but 2020’s Fake It Flowers
still felt modern and fresh enough to avoid sounding like an overt throwback or anachronism.
But now we’ve arrived at Beatopia
, and things are starting to feel a little too familiar. I don’t want to simply write off the project as Fake It Flowers Pt. II
, but I can’t shake the feeling that not much new ground has been broken here. It’s the same alternative/indie rock with elements of folk and dream pop; the biggest difference is that the music sounds a bit sleepier and dreamier, but that actually works to the album’s detriment. If you can give the opener “Beatopia Cultsong” any credit, it’s that the laid-back guitar work and drowsy pace serve as a strong indicator of what you’ll hear from the rest of the project. And alas, that is exactly
what you get from most of it. The followup number “10:36” does pick up the pace substantially, with its fuzzy electric guitars and peppy drum work, but if I replaced it with any of the upbeat tunes from Fake It Flowers
, would you be able to tell the difference? However, homogeneity is the word of the day in regards to Beatopia
: it spends way too much of its time and focus on forgettable acoustic numbers that simply lack any kind of standout qualities. Once in a while you’ll get something a bit more memorable, such as the beautiful symphonic backing of “Ripples” or the infectious swaying rhythms of “Fairy Song”; unfortunately, they aren’t as frequent as the frustratingly middle-of-the-road cuts that seem to lack a real purpose. This even becomes a problem with songs that are meant to have some sort of climax; just listen to “Broken CD”’s underwhelming mid-song payoff for proof of that.
Okay, that’s a lot of negativity, so let’s back it up for a second. At the end of the day, Beatopia
doesn’t really do anything outright wrong or offensive musically. But in a way, that’s ironically its biggest downfall: it’s an innocuous record, stripped of much of the personality and energy that made Fake It Flowers
shine through its obvious influences. Still, that’s not to say Beatopia
isn’t at least a passable album; the performances are very solid, the acoustic guitar work is pleasant enough, and the atmosphere is actually quite nice from time to time. I’m all for listening to something that’s low-key, but it still needs to do something interesting with its subdued nature. Sadly, this record’s songs fall into two camps: dull acoustic songs (“Beatopia Cultsongs”, Lovesong”, “You’re Here That’s the Thing”) and upbeat tunes that come off as second-rate versions of their Fake It Flowers
counterparts (“10:36”, “Talk”). What you end up with is a project that’s decent and disappointing at the same time; it’ll be a pleasing listen when you do
put it on, but I doubt you’ll revisit it often.