Review Summary: And we’ll all get help, paradise, and we’ll start another life
On the cover of Blue Rev, a frightened Molly Rankin stares wide-eyed into the camera as her parents help her climb onto a wharf. Behind these figures of protection and behind the bright colours of her life-jacket are the dark, rolling clouds of adulthood. A few years after the taking of this photograph, Molly’s father will pass away, and that turbulent sky will become a little bigger.
Alvvays’ output has always been focused on moments of transition - of growing up, breaking up, or breaking down - and Blue Rev feels like the band’s most successful expression of the emotions that arise in these moments, in particular the fear of facing adulthood on your own when so much of the world is still a mystery.
The style of the album itself marks a transition for the band - their trademark clean, melodically immediate anthems have been muddied over their (notably unintentional) five year hiatus, and on my first listen of the lead single and opener ‘Pharmacist’, I was left confused and disappointed. The noisy production obscured the lyrics, and the melodies came and went before they could define themselves clearly in my mind. Over time, ‘Pharmacist’ and the other singles became songs I loved, but even then my first listen of the complete album was a similarly frustrating experience - it felt like the typically note-perfect hooks of this band were missing, and that the thicker textures of the songs meant they blended into each other.
Eventually I made peace with the fact that this album had different goals to their self-titled and sophomore album, and would achieve them in different ways. What then, does Blue Rev achieve by sacrificing the immediacy of its preceding albums? ‘Those paths have grown in now’, sings Rankin at the midpoint of ‘Pharmacist’, and this is an apt descriptor of the stylistic change. The anthemic summer tunes have been tainted by time, and to convey the uncertainty and confusion of facing the world and our own passage through it, Blue Rev embraces this fear and chaos into its songwriting. Melodies change themselves line to line, choruses reveal themselves only partially, and whiplash changes in texture mark the climaxes of many tracks. This isn’t to say that the melodies or song structures are poorly thought out - instead, just like the world they describe, secret patterns and moments of beauty reveal themselves over time. In ‘Tom Verlaine’, a seemingly aimless and meandering verse melody climbs itself higher and higher with each recurrence, like slowly intensifying waves of emotion. In ‘Velveteen’, a bridge seems to burn out into bureaucratic acceptance, a moment of attempted composure before the ever-pressing question of the song reappears in its most heartbreaking form.
The child on the cover of Blue Rev is facing the turbulent sky now. After Rankin’s apartment was robbed, after the band’s music equipment was destroyed by a flood, and after a pandemic that kept band members separated for years, the core of Blue Rev’s songs were recorded in a single two hour session - an isolated moment of things coming together in a world so full of mess. In a way, the album is asking us listeners to seek these moments ourselves. Can we still recognise the infectious, bubbly sound of the bands infancy somewhere in the heart of these roughed-up songs? We are still that child on the edge of the wharf, but now that we navigate the clouds on our own, we must accept the blurriness of their edges, and remind ourselves to find wonder in their shapes anyway.
A blue rev is an alcoholic drink, but one that most only consume at the very start of a drinking career - college parties full of people on the brink of adulthood. As you down the liquid, as your vision blurs, and as the sound of the party grows louder in your ears, you might feel a sense of pride at maturing and entering a new phase of life.
Then the fear and confusion comes.
And then, only then, will the beauty of it all come into view.