Bright Light Bright Light
Tough Love EP
Self Raising Records
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The extended play—or EP— configuration has long since been used as a stopgap device or space to sonically experiment in place of the traditional album format. In most cases, this method is mutually beneficial for both the artist and their audience. Welsh singer, songwriter and all-around musician Rod Thomas—known by his stage moniker Bright Light Bright Light—is an enthusiast of the extended play set-up.
Using several of these five-to-eight track recordings to prolong the triumph of his third long player Choreography (2016), Thomas settled into a refined niche that allowed him to platform his own brand of pop music. But, among his most ardent fans there had been a polite clamor for a proper follow-up to Choreography.
When I spoke with Thomas last year, he was on the promotional trail for his then forthcoming I Only Want to Please You EP and directly addressed if there were any tentative plans for a fourth record, “I've been giving it thought. It is going to be awhile before a new album comes out. As an independent musician, I don't have the money to launch a new album right now. There's still more that I want to do with Choreography and there's a ton of other material that doesn't quite work as a whole new record too. So, there's stuff in the pipeline. I do definitely have thoughts for what I want to do for the next record, I'm just not quite sure when that will be yet. Probably not next year.”
So, does Tough Love serve as another stylish outlet for Thomas’ busy musical imagination or is it something more? The seven-track collection comprised of five original entries and two remixes is actually a little bit of both. Thomas’ sixth extended play overall and second to be parted from Choreography, Tough Love is arguably Thomas’ most exciting batching of songs since that recording. The effort is, of course, written and produced by Thomas wholesale.
Barring the fizzy vintage froth of “Uh Huh!,” the remaining four compositions found on Tough Love eschew the more explicit 1980s AOR-dance-pop motifs that Thomas has made his hallmark. A surface listen of Tough Love reveals a return to the atmospheric electro-pop of Make Me Believe in Hope (2011) and Life Is Easy (2014).
Yet, by the time the listener moves through the layered digital effects and percussive elements of Tough Love’s opening tracks “How I Feel” and the title track, it’s apparent that Thomas has shifted gears. “One” and “Anybody Else” carry this exciting sonic trajectory onward without Thomas relinquishing his sensuous and sensitive lyrical and vocal approach—George Michael would be proud.
The progressive thrust of Tough Love’s pronounced rhythmic pulse in its arrangements will undoubtedly be appetizing to Thomas’ loyal fans and future converts. What’s more, the forward-thinking, if classically expressive mechanisms at work on Tough Love tie it to two other pop EP masterstrokes from the past: Fascination! (1983) by The Human League and ABBA-esque (1992) by Erasure. That Thomas can evoke the sound spirits of these established acts (whom Thomas openly admires) in a contemporaneous context without the aftertaste of shameless nostalgia is impressive.
In the long term, Thomas’ unabashed embrace of timeless songcraft in a period of soulless track building via Tough Love lets Thomas maintain this dominance over his own corner of the popular music scene, and may possibly let him finally extend his reach even further.
Notable Tracks: “Anybody Else” | “How I Feel” | “Tough Love” | “Uh Huh!”