The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
There is a legend going on in the music biz around the second album. It states that it is a critical step for a band following a successful debut. A legend that assumes it is difficult for a band in a busy moment of their career to reproduce a second work that confirms the positive impression of the first. Is it?
This is only a part of the truth. The same legend status, achieved because it is repeated on second album reviews 7 out of 10 times, forgets the other half of the story involved in making an album into a success: the reviewers. I wonder how many second albums where understated not at the band’s fault but because of reviewers’ prejudice.
I’m not leaving myself out. Often we don’t expect a lot from the second album for irrational reasons. Preconceptions are fatal, instead of placing the listener in the right open-minded attitude it bias his judgement ahead of pressing play.
It is not risky to like a debut, even easier a single or an EP. It is compromising for your status of “music journalist, music blogger, music lover” to fail on the follow up. How many time have you heard someone saying “I loved them at the beginning, not anymore”? Go figure.
I liked Pains of Being Pure at Heart first album, I had been attracted by the B&W design of the cover then I loved the album. Classic indie-pop guitar tunes talking about life of a post-teen age.
A couple of years ago I was photographing one of their early gigs. It was in a packed, small venue with an inadequate acoustic. I still remember those delicate pop songs shining shy out of the sweat. Perfectly part of their times, great at managing new media and marketing, with echoes of the black and whites sound of the eighties.
The black silhouette on the album cover and the white of the vinyl they sold for 10£.
A lo-fi approach friendly and open communication with their public. They gathered fans and entered the precious space dedicated to cult bands. Not (yet) too many followers but all people that will not forget you for the next big thing just because you have to stop touring to record new material.
Musically the songs of that album put together the freshness of contemporary New York scene with the less apocalyptic of the Cure heritage. All spiced all up with drops of Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine controlled feedback.
Two years, many gigs and with new freshly mixed tunes, Pains of Being Pure at Heart are back with Belong, their second LP.
The album expands its sound. Part merit of the band, that doesn’t seem to have lost any inspiration, part a more professional production.
Maintaining their distinctive sound and vocally still centred on the calm and relaxed voice of Kip Berman, the palette the band uses to paint the new oeuvre has leaved the greyscale to move into multicolour.
Flood produces the album and expectedly makes it sound bigger. Songs are polished, guitars don’t clank raw but emerge crystalline. So do the keys, clean, shine to emphasize new dazzling pop melodies.
Alan Moulder, known to the public for the outstanding contribution to Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine (not chosen by chance, I guess), mixed Belong creating the perfect alchemy that doesn’t allow the new big sound to appear impersonal.
With a new glossy visit card in their pockets, from that tiny place where Pains of Being Pure at Heart stood hiding shy in the shadows in 2009, tonight enter comfortably under the colourful lights of a bigger stage.
The optimistic attitude present on the record is naturally transferred onto the live show.
They may have disappointed the purists of lo-fi and the detractors of the structured pop-song (and NME, which rated the album 3/10 and, sincerely, isn’t clear anymore what consider good beyond being British and emphasizing anyone that gets excited with the Union Jack) but surely TPOBPAH seduced lovers of melody and choruses.
Belong from the cover to the live show switches on the light.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart tonight breathe new life and sing new wonderful song to a very excited audience.
A positive feeling of Love in its largest sense infuses the songs and the beginning of the set. Belong the title track is a killer and is followed by two from the debut This Love is Fucking Right and A Teenager in Love.
The click with the fans is achieved. The first important step of the indie concert ritual: the connection, checked.
With a new member on stage adding a second guitar, Pains of Being Pure at Heart are now a quintet and have a more solid sound.
Berman’s voice reminds of the best Stone Roses. The bouncy rhythm of Heart in Your Heartbreak shows how skilled drummer can make the difference between a song and a hit.
The burst of optimism opening Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now and the ethereal keyboards of Peggy Wang match her sensual moves and her dancing long hair.
One of the night’s highlight is My Terrible Friend.
The dialogue between the keyboard launching the melody and the pulsing bass reminding of the Cure at their ‘Disintegration’ success. Then change of pace, a break in the beat and Kip singing “everyone is just everyone”. Surely shortlisted for the best pop song of the year.
The disappointment of the night, Pains of Being Pure at Heart didn’t play the slower, lovely, Anne With an E and the wonderful Even in Dreams, the one containing another winning verse for the Facebook age: “I wonder what is like to be liked”.
As it started, the concert closes as the album, with Too Tough and Strange, leaving the hot hits from the debut, Contender and Everything with You, to the encore. Not a brave move but the move to please those hardcore fans waiting for those songs at the barrier for what seemed not two hours but two years.
A great night, from a band on which I would have not put much of my money few months ago, considering how many beautiful debuts I have seen missing a decent follow-up. I put away my prejudice and admit that Belong is now listing high on my favourite albums of the year.
If that was a debut everyone would be shouting at the miracle, but since is the sophomore release, it needs twice the effort and it is not half the band’s fault. The album will get the Pains of Being Pure at Heart bigger stages, they thoroughly deserve it. Give them a chance.
It is difficult to make pictures of one show different from the other when all you have is a band on stage and some coloured, and never bright enough, lights.
If the band is not bringing a particular light scheme, and few can afford special effects, it is very important to put attention at any details and search for anything that gives a different feel.
This is why is quite helpful to enter the pit few minutes in advance to study perspectives and any device that may be of use.
At this gig I noticed that the usual vertical led-lights the Junction deploys on the back were moved forward to both sides of the stage, close to the left guitarist and to Peggy’s keys.
Once the show started I looked for the right angle and I spent some of the 3 songs (were 4 in the end to be fair) to shoot some photos were the led-lights act as main source isolating one of the members.
I had to wait the spare moments they were not too annoying blue but to avoid an unpleasant dominant.
Nothing special or outstanding, just a couple of different shots to make a photo set a bit more “electric”.