For many a band, the self-titled album is a rite of passage. Fleetwood Mac did it twice, Led Zeppelin four and Weezer more times than I can count. With the exception of a debut, a self-title often marks a comeback, like how The Beatles signified their resurgence into the public sphere, a return to their roots. The decision to name an album after oneself feels intentional, evoking an aura of self-assurance and certainty in one’s artistic vision, like that sparkly bowling ball you get after achieving Pro-Level in Wii Sports. The pure simplicity of such a title suggests a level of notoriety, or rather, a path being paved to future infamy. And with their self-titled third album, MUNA has proved that they certainly have the chops to reach sparkly bowling ball status.
In the time since MUNA’s last album, Saves the World, they’ve weathered quite a bit of change: getting dropped by RCA, picked up by indie record label Saddest Factory, releasing a viral TikTok hit. With their first two albums, MUNA firmly cemented itself in the realm of Queer pop with bangers like “I Know A Place” and “Number One Fan.” They established a sound of their own featuring emotive, well-crafted lyrics and synth-pop beats: a pairing that you could just as easily dance in your bedroom to or cry in the middle of the club to. Essentially, sad and gay.
Keeping that in mind, MUNA’s lead single “Silk Chiffon” was a definite change of pace for them. It ushered in a new era, one that wasn’t afraid to explore beyond the standard sound we’d grown accustomed to hearing from them. It was light and shimmery and far poppier than anything they’d ever released. Not even Phoebe Bridgers herself could bring down the infectiously catchy chorus of “Like life’s so fun, life’s so fun / Got my miniskirt and my rollerblades on.” The Sapphic energy harnessed by “Silk Chiffon” was hardly new ground for them (its music video even pays homage to Queer cult classic “But I’m a Cheerleader”), but the bright, celebratory manner in which they did it certainly is, breezily saturated into three minutes of bubbly pop perfection.
While the vast remainder of the album isn’t as cheery as “Silk Chiffon,” a notable divergence from their previous works persists in its willingness to experiment without losing sight of itself. Because as out-of-left-field as some of the songs may appear, they’re still MUNA, through and through.
Classic MUNA bangers are easy to spot from the get-go: electro-pop numbers like “Home By Now,” which contemplates a failed relationship and asks the important questions like, “What is love supposed to feel like, anyway?” (sad) and “Why is it so hot in L.A.?” (gay). “Anything But Me” is full of similarly fun quips like, “You’re gonna say that I’m on a high horse / I think that my horse is regular sized / Did you ever think maybe / You’re on a pony / Going in circles on a carousel ride?” Killer roasts aside, lead singer Katie Gavin’s steady control over the flow of her writing is as compelling as ever. Across albums and eras, genres and record labels, her words pour out seamlessly, each line spilling over into the next in an effortless stream of intensely acute thoughts and feelings.
Although the band has preserved the heart of MUNA in its songwriting, their foray into new sounds has brought forth a scrupulous attention to detail in their song production. On “Runner’s High,” they play with the idea of sustaining oneself on the adrenaline of “running out” on a relationship by mimicking the pulsing tempo of such a rush as the percussion simulates the pitter-patter of a heartbeat. In the case of “Solid,” its precise, clean production is used to clash against the sharpness of its edgy guitar riffs, reminiscent of ’80s glam rock.
There’s a special kind of MUNA magic infused into the very fabric of country-pop song “Kind of Girl.” It’s a touching, heartfelt ballad about being kinder to yourself and reflecting on the person you used to be. Its twangy strings mesh well with Gavin’s vocals gently coaxing you in, tugging on your heartstrings. Learning to accept your faults and laugh at ‘em all like you’re not a problem to solve? Just go ahead and stab me in the heart while you’re at it. For anyone who’s ever had a complex relationship with girlhood or their identity, “Kind of Girl” gives you the space to figure it all out.
With MUNA, MUNA tries on a lot of hats. It’s not a one-genre kind of album, but that’s part of its beauty. Intentional or not, that sort of genre-less fluidity is pretty on theme for an album about trying to redefine your identity and realizing that nothing is ever really definitive. It’s about figuring out what you want and enjoying the good parts of love and life while they’re happening. On their self-title, MUNA has returned with a self-assuredness in their artistry unlike ever before. Because whether they’re channeling their inner Shania Twain or Prince, they’ve made it clear that they’re gonna make bops — nothing but bops, in fact.
Daily Arts Writer Serena Irani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.