Glasvegas | Euphoric Heartbreak (Columbia)

Admirably, Allan wants to reach every single person in the world, but in attempting to do so he loses sight of the small stories that connect single lives into a greater web.

 

 

 

Glasvegas’ first LP was remarkable for its ability to stuff hulking, reverb-laden constructs of sound with molten fillings of deeply moving stories ripped from council estates and middle class family homes. Think of it as one huge, Scottish emo calzone. This was big music that was somehow even bigger on the inside; plainspoken yet packed with the vivid details of a lived-in life.

It’s a disappointment, then, (but maybe not a shock) that in trying to follow up such a resounding, fully formed debut, Euphoric Heartbreak shoots for the moon and comes up short. In some ways it’s even bigger than its predecessor. Cavernous arrangements are driven less by slowed down and amped up guitars set to ‘Wall of Sound,’ and more by Muse-like walls of synthesizers and sequencers. This is slick stuff—processed guitars steamroll and chime with the power of the Edge moving at ⅛ speed; keyboards rise to the ceiling of digital cathedrals. There’s still plenty of Glasvegas’ hallmark sing-along melody; these are accessible, good-sounding songs. James Allan’s voice is still a major asset as he continues to sing his heart out in his deep-lunged Glaswegan brogue.

The problem is that this album feels markedly more generic than its predecessor. That’s not because it’s creatively bankrupt, but by trying to tap into universal themes of heartbreak and a world-spanning view of the human condition, it sacrifices soul. Admirably, Allan wants to reach every single person in the world, but in attempting to do so he loses sight of the small stories that connect single lives into a greater web. This all-encompassing approach works best in songs like the compelling “Shine Like Stars,” which shoves the band’s trademark slow-rolling, chunky guitar sound through the e-grinder and turns it into a series of oscilloscope-friendly sine waves. “Euphoria, Take My Hand,” could easily veer into self-parody, but it’s so damn serious—not to mention dramatic and catchy— that it not only succeeds but ends up being the album’s best track.

Unfortunately, for every semi-winner on Euphoria there’s another track that feels more like a noble misstep. “Lost Sometimes” pummels you into submission with 7 minutes of cascading cacophony. This is very much an instance of trying to communicate something gigantic but ultimately saying nothing. “Whatever Hurts You Through the Night” takes a step in the right direction, appropriating the chiming, wintry vibe of the excellent A Snowflake Fell EP, but then crams in lyrics that scan like hastily penned, stalker-riffic fan fiction. There are two songs (“Stronger Than Dirt,” and “I Feel Wrong,” awkwardly subtitled “Homosexuality, Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2,” respectively) written from the perspective of a gay man. While they’re both more than a little ham-fisted and as frustratingly broad as the rest of the album, they are at least admirable attempts at spreading songwriting wings.

None of the album’s experiments feel cynical or lazy. If anything, the record is an uncalculated, sincere attempt at mass communication and personal growth via trying to write songs less from firsthand experience and more as through-their-eyes character studies. But it simply doesn’t play to very many of Allan’s songwriting strengths. Euphoric Heartbreak consistently aims high but is ultimately too distant and self-conscious to be universal, despite the brazen attempts at speaking directly to the listener’s heart. C | Mike Rengel

RIYL: Muse; crazy Phil Spector; the Waterboys if they were assimilated by the Borg

 

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