For this ‘80s child, CHVRCHES’ third album Love Is Dead flashes an alluring, synthy grin that sometimes manages to disguise its annoyingly saccharine pop core. Flaunting a similarly glossy sheen as its predecessors The Bones of What You Believe (2013) and Every Open Eye (2015), the Scottish trio’s third album glistens with their customary, catchy throwback sound.
But where their first two full-lengths connect viscerally through moments of raw, unrestrained emotion, Love Is Dead meanders somewhat lifelessly—processing away any feeling. And rather than standing victoriously, emergent from therapeutic healing, the album fizzles on impact, an indistinct battle indifferently ceded.
After acquainting myself with the album for these last couple weeks, I was truly hoping it’d become less vacuous. Like so many women, I’d latched onto singer Lauren Mayberry’s spirit of triumph in the toxic-relationship-shedding single “Leave a Trace” from Every Open Eye. Tenacious and heartfelt, the bulk of the album pulses with vigor and conviction—a testament to lucid observation, just as its title would suggest. Unfortunately, Love Is Dead, with its formulaic mainstream tendencies, also lives up to its name. When all the thrills, starts and even agonies of love are eroded, what’s left is ambivalence and detachment.
But it seems widespread commercial viability is what CHVRCHES are after here. They enlisted Los Angeles–based, Grammy-winner Greg Kurstin to co-produce the album. Known for his lucrative collaborations in the world of pop, Kurstin helped engineer their sound into something more accessible to the masses.
Despite its predictability (and unpalatability in my book), the glittery package offers a few pleasures that save it from utter mediocrity. The richest tracks on Love Is Dead, “My Enemy” (featuring Matt Berninger of The National) and “Never Say Die,” deftly alternate between female/male vocals. The dual perspectives, reminiscent of British synth-pop band The Human League, create an interlocking narrative, adding depth that’s sorely missing from the majority of the record.
After CHVRCHES’ promising start, I’m hopeful they’ll rediscover their sense of grit in whatever they do next. Their polished ‘80s sound may continue to enthrall in the moment, but it’s the rough edges that really made them shine.
Notable Tracks: “My Enemy” | “Never Say Die”