Review: Broken Bells - After The Disco

An album that sounds as good as it looks on paper is a rare thing, but Broken Bells' post-disco effort does a sterling job.
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So, the race is on to be 2014’s Daft Punk. This time last year it was all about being 2013’s Adele, perfectly demonstrating how well the music industry predicts trends. One is reminded of Tony Wilson (of Factory records) declining to set up a dance imprint in 1987, as “dance will never catch on.” If small indies get it wrong, what hope for the lumbering Sony’s?

Anyway, for the moment, Disco is back. Actually it never went away, even following its nadir of ‘Disco Sucks’, it simmered away beneath 80s pop, rave and 90s piano house. Now it’s big news of course, with the (sshhh, overrated) Daft Punk, Pet Shop Boys Electric and Chromeo’s upcoming White Women.

So, with Disco so firmly returned that a new Nile Rogers album is anticipated, we find Broken Bells following up their debut of 2010. It’s a more downbeat, post-clubbing affair, with Danger Mouse and the Shins’ James Mercer, declining the lead from their all-conquering The Ghost Inside, instead cueing from Joy Division and the midnight echo of the debut’s Mongrel Heart.

The icy synths of epic opener Perfect World and the tight-as-tendons title track, embrace the kick drums and delicate melodies of ABBA had they survived the 80s and won the Miami Music festival instead of Eurovision. These tunes are the loose stitching at the edge of the dance-floor: the sound of the observer, and the staggered walk home after failing to find a taxi.

The sepia colour of 70s Vegas suburbia and niggling chanting of Leave it alone, is closer to the Shins’ last album, while it’s easy to see why Holding on for Life was lead track. It grooves with the sort of Bee Gee’s falsetto they evidently patented in the 70s; it’s irresistible. The Changing Light is another highlight, ‘my cards are all on the table,’ wrestles with the unlikely shadow of Oasis, or is it the Beatles?

It’s a rare thing, an album that sounds as good as it looks on paper. The horn coda of Control even echoes Chic and Gnarls Barkley. Its gentle grandeur lacks the dramatics of their debut, but is no less effective. It drifts towards the end, falling a little too in love with its own production and mid tempo riffs, but it’s never enough to detract from the fragile early hours beauty of its first half.