Review Summary: Bless it, indeed.In A Poem Unlimited
—U.S. Girls’ 2018 project— still stands as a triumph in pop music. Mostly unheard by the masses, it's undeniable proof that political pop can be immeasurably danceable. Its blend of disco, noise and glam rock and psychedelic dance-pop, supported by biting female anger and social commentary meant that this release had more substance than anything released in the pop genre around that time and, arguably, now. Its ruminations on domestic and sexual abuse (‘Incidental Boogie’, ‘Pearly Gates’), politics (‘M.A.H.’) and emotional disconnect (‘L-Over’) were made accessible, so much so that you could be forgiven to think they don't even exist, considering the production was consistently great and the vocal performances arresting. It’s not a totally cohesive affair, but it’s one that invites future visits for its sonic palette and daring lyrical approach.
2020’s Heavy Light
was not a flattering follow-up to its 2018 counterpart. Its amazing singles ‘4 American Dollars’ and ‘Overtime’ are among the best U.S. Girls tracks but apart from a handful of deep cuts — like the disco-tinged, Latin-inspired ‘And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve’ — the album was a musical and lyrical step-down. Still, I respect it merely for its admirable ambitions narratively, a record about how our personal traumas and experiences in today's society manifest into the kind of people we become.
I mention all that because it may make me a tad
forgiving to this new album, Bless This Mess
, at least sonically. It’s a return to the polished and slick sound of In A Poem Unlimited
, after the more rough, experimental-pop territory of the last project. And yet, the narrative stakes are lower. For all its flaws, Heavy Light
had at least a compelling idea driving it forward, even if there wasn’t equally compelling music and writing gluing it together. Bless This Mess
seems perfectly satisfied with less. In spirit, it inhabits the synth-pop that made 2018’s affair so catchy, but this time around, it fails to make an impression, due to an unfocused narrative and vision.
But damn, if some of it isn’t beautiful and catchy. ‘Only Daedalus’ is a groovy opening number and introduces the synth-driven energy that carries most of the album. The mid-section of Bless This Mess
is legitimately fantastic, starting with the one-two punch of the grungy ‘Future’s Bet’ and the superb, sun-soaked slice of synth-pop ‘So Typically Now’, which contains the best chorus of the entire record. It is quickly followed by the gentle, earnest and intimate title track and the slick, disco-inspired ‘Tux (Your Body Fills Me, Boo)’, which could easily fit into In A Poem
. And no one but Meghan Remy could have made a track about pumping milk to feed your demanding and hungry newborns sound so fun (‘Pump’ even samples Remy using a breast pump).
But damn, if some of it isn’t a mess. Clocking in at 44 minutes, this is the longest U.S. Girls album and it shows — a tighter tracklist would have done a world of good. The collaborations found throughout are limp, with unmemorable production and not much vocal chemistry, despite how communal the sound of U.S. Girls usually tends to be. I see what they were going for with ‘Screen Face’, but that idea is tied to a bland and meandering pop tune. Closer ‘Outro (The Let Down)’ dives into repetitive and cloying “you and you and you”s, when some more lyrics would have fluffed this send-off up.
Worse of all, it betrays the foundation of what makes U.S. Girls’ music so good: its underlying themes. The social issues bubbling under previous projects are gone now and in their place are lyrics about individuality, accepting the spirality of life, searching for an escape from the anxieties of life during and after the pandemic and motherhood. All those ideas, while intriguing on their own, don’t get enough time to blossom into something coherent or interesting. Powerful lyricism such as “I got myself a real man who don’t hit that hard / So I can still work at my job” is replaced by dull writing such as “When nothing is wrong / Everything is fine / This is just life”. Meghan Remy isn’t always a subtle songwriter, but she has proved to do much better than “My phone is dying / And I am dying too / Dying to be in the same room”.
Maybe the point was to just have fun. Maybe the point was to create feel-good tunes and move away from the social commentary that drives most of the previous outputs. That could explain the fact that Meghan Remy scales things back to the grooves found on In A Poem
. Or maybe the skillful pen exemplified in previous albums is long gone and U.S. Girls direct and daring writing has been traded for anonymous lyricism and more energetic production. In total, it’s an improvement over Heavy Light
, but that’s to a fault. In A Poem
wasn’t so good because of its sound or themes, but for its impeccable blend of both. Bless This Mess
has enough of the former and little of the latter.