“We’re back in business / you’re such a big mess / and I love you,” is how Grouplove’s new album, Big Mess, begins, and it’s these three lines that largely sum up the rest of the album: a very big, aimless mess that, though unrestricted in its guitar strums and happy-go-lucky vocals, you can’t help but love.
Despite the overall chaos of Big Mess, the album starts off relatively organized. “Welcome to Your Life” is a flashy attention-grabber of an intro song, very reminiscent of 2011-era Grouplove. Its hippie, feel-good sound directly mimics old iconic Grouplove favorites like “Tongue Tied” and “Lovely Cup.” “Welcome to Your Life” is the perfect first song because it skillfully captures Grouplove’s entire appeal as a band: the promise that, no matter where you are (even if it’s dreary Michigan in mid-November), within the first few notes, you’re instantly transported to somewhere stress-free, with warm sand underneath your toes and the sun illuminating all the beauty this world has to offer. With this first track, Grouplove grabs your hand and says “welcome to our album; it can also be your life.”
Attention successfully captured, Grouplove wastes no time showcasing their best qualities through the songs “Do You Love Someone” and “Standing in The Sun.” Both of these tracks are mellower than “Welcome To Your Life,” yet both contain the same uninhibited quality. In every moment of these songs, Grouplove is holding nothing back; the background instruments clash together to produce a cacophony of sound that fits so perfectly with the simple, yet genuine vocals. Grouplove isn’t afraid to be cluttered, and in their imperfection comes authenticity. “Do You Love Someone” and “Standing in The Sun” are personable, optimistic and entirely pure in their pandemonium.
Many of the songs in Big Mess, like “Good Morning” and “Cannonball,” hold these same qualities. In fact, looking at the individual songs in the album separately, Grouplove continues to put 110%, no holds barred, into each and every note.
However, a problem materializes when viewing the album as a whole. Despite the vivacity of distinctive songs, there’s hardly any distinction in sound from one song to the next. Big Mess, overall, flatlines. While none of the songs are horrendous, they do all seem to blur into one giant clamor of California beach vibes and free spirit alt rock when listened to as a whole. For example, “Spinning,” when heard on its own, is a light song that’s easy and fun to listen to. The line, “Me, I can never stop my world from spinning” layers perfectly over the simple, optimistic jangle of the background music. However, when heard in succession with the extremely similar “Good Morning” and “Cannonball,” the song loses its charm and transforms into an indistinct mass. The songs in Big Mess are too homogenous, and thus the album loses the noteworthy characteristics that are apparent in its individual songs.
“Enlighten Me” and “Traumatized” are the only two songs that show any variation from the rest of the album. “Enlighten Me” is darker and more melodramatic than any typical, upbeat Grouplove song, while “Traumatized” seems to draw influences from bands like Cage the Elephant and Pixies with its angry electric background and half-screaming vocals. These two songs are islands in the sea of monotony that is Big Mess and show where this album could’ve gone if Grouplove had experimented with their sound just a little more.
Big Mess is a solid album with notable individual songs, but it’s very safe. Grouplove isn’t making any leaps or experiments, nor do they seem to want to. To take a stab at relevancy, whatever Grouplove produces next needs to take their sound up to the next level. But for now, unassuming, easygoing uniformity is the only thing to expect from Big Mess.