Monday, 19 September 2011

REVIEW: Girls - 'Father, Son, Holy Ghost'

Christopher Owens, chief songwriter, vocalist and guitarist of San Fran duo Girls, revealed last year that he was learning the craft of great songwriting. Whether that was him thinking that it would eliminate the difficulty of making that notoriously tricky second album – especially after the success of Girls’ debut LP, Album in 2009 – or if it was simply for his personal development as a musician, or both, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Owens has improved as what may be regarded as a ‘classic’ songwriter, but he has destroyed the fervour and affectionate ‘let-it-grow-on-you’ aspect of his earlier material and has instead mainly churned out predictably structured, dull pop songs that hardly resonate after the first listen.

Thankfully, album opener, ‘Honey Bunny’ is not one of these lacklustre tracks. With its rolling snares, clean-cut Beach Boys vibrato, Chet ‘JR’ White’s walking bass and Owens’ glottal stops, ‘Honey Bunny’ could easily be the younger brother of ‘Heartbreaker’ (from Girls’ 2010 EP, Broken Dreams Club). Interestingly, both songs open in the same key, but the romantic, lo-fi quality of ‘Heartbreaker’ is long-gone on this polished track. “They don’t like my bony body/ They don’t like my dirty hair”, project Owens’ typical self-aggrandisement, although he should feel confident here, for this may well be the best track on the album, with a fantastic mid-song tempo twist that breaks into an incongruous, crooner-like middle eight; giving Father, Son, Holy Ghost considerable opening bite.

The following track, ‘Alex’, is equally attractive, overflowing with an assortment of 90s/00s American shoegaze/indie/pop- rock; with its gritty Pixies reverb, poppy blink-182 pre-choruses and hammering Strokes guitars. Owens’ crisp, lethargic, but ultimately charming vocals exude a likeable innocence that trickles throughout this track and the rest of the album, but unfortunately, the raw and impassioned vocals found on his past releases have disappeared. Apart from these two opening treasures, most of the ensuing tracks on the album are very run-of- the-mill.

‘How Can I Say I Love You’ and album-closer ‘Jamie Marie’, for instance, are wholly forgettable and unimaginative. Perhaps Owens has erred on the side of ‘classic’ songwriting in the standard, structural sense, with the former track being all too conventional and regurgitating horribly clich├ęd lyrics, “How can I say I love you/ Now that you’ve said I love you/How can I say I need you/ Now that you’ve said I need you” (insert related verb here). Musically, a handful of the songs on Father, Son, Holy Ghost sound like they should be theme-tunes for kids’ TV shows, like the tacky, Status-Quo rock of ‘Magic’ and the completely unoriginal prog-rock chords and accompanying pitch-bend guitar solos that are barely palatable on, ‘Die’. Most disappointingly of all is the critically-acclaimed single, ‘Vomit’, which is a spiritualised homage to heartbreak, as Owens gently whispers:  "The nights I spend alone/ I spend alone now looking for you baby”. Admittedly, the song features a liberating, organ-chiming chorus with a fully-installed gospel choir backing-up Owens’ lyrical begging, but the song drags and is littered with cheesy ‘ooh- yeahs’.

The second half of the album truly lacks the vivacity that ‘Honey Bunny’ and ‘Alex’ hold in the first, save for the exquisite, cascading flamenco guitars, edgy discordant bass notes and swelling flute patterns on the lullaby-like, ‘Just A Song.’ However, for the larger part, the song is merely what the title states and the majority of the album’s tracks could well be entitled this too.

Perhaps critical hype has jinxed this album. Perhaps an original love for Girls’ lo-fi Californian pop has overpowered the eclectic, yet mismatched jumble of blues-rock, prog-rock, surf-pop, gospel and shoegaze installed on the record. It could be all manner of things, but what is clear is that Girls have lost their identity in a forest of experimentation where one would have hoped they would have found it. Regrettably, Owens and White’s songwriting efforts have created predominantly average songs overall.


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