This article was originally published to The Edge on 10th April 2016
Eliza and The Bear’s eponymous debut album is what happens when you put fans of Mumford and Sons in a room with fans of Imagine Dragons, shake the room vigorously to cause violent arguments and steamy sex as bodies fall into each other, and then have them exit, dazed, to tell a record executive exactly what they learned from each other – except none of the interesting sexual or philosophical lessons, but just what musical sounds they now enjoy.
Eliza And The Bear is a little bit less fun than that sounds (depending on whether you’re in the room or shaking it), but the whole album has zero edges. It averages out at infrequently smile-inducing, if we’re talking track for track. Yet this isn’t a playlist, it’s an album, and a pop one at that. Something that really great pop albums have is distinguishing elements between songs, so you can pick them out of a line-up. Not all albums have to be a collection of hits, but if you want to make something that really pops, it needs more than the formula for one great song stretched thin over all tracks. Opener ‘Friends’ kicks things off with requisite energy and mild invention – horns are becoming too ubiquitous to feel special, but they work on this track – but there are at least two other songs that will require you to pinch yourself to be sure that they aren’t the same.
Whilst the overall sound of the album isn’t half bad, the lyrics are punishingly forgettable. The only ones which stick out are in the choruses. But it’s easy to remember to shout “So light it up-uh-oh / Oh-woa-uh-oh-oh / When the weight of the world / Falls on your shoulders” during a concert, especially whilst the music predictably swells. Although considering how often Eliza and The Bear play all their instruments together in huge fashion in the introductions to songs, you’d think further swelling would cause injury. Highlight song ‘It Gets Cold’, with a catchy central guitar riff at its side, manages to sidestep the lyrics problem, until the second verse ends with “Cause my God / it gets cold in the night”, the same dull line about to be repeated in the chorus.
Not all the songs blur together, although it’s often for the wrong reasons. ‘Oxygen’ sticks out like a sore thumb – a musical arrangement and beginning out of Twin Atlantic’s playbook, and a general tone that feels a little bit more daring. Slow crooner ‘Cruel’ however is the death knell of the whole sorry affair. James Kellegher’s vocals are equivalent to hearing a large group of people all sing together: one bland, featureless, but miraculously tuneful sound. Combined with the track’s soft piano chords, midway electric-guitar break-in, and the frankly bizarre lyrics (opening with the all-timer strange request of a “love song”, “Don’t give up on me / When all I can be is / All I can be is cruel”), it’s eerily similar to Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’. Which only serves to throw into sharp relief how dull that song can really be.
Eliza And The Bear is now available via Capitol Records.