While I have countless cherished memories of my soon-to-be five-year-old daughter’s toddler years, one of my most vivid recollections involves London Grammar.
Upon its release back in September 2013, the trio’s revelatory debut album If You Wait became a staple of my personal playlist, and by extension, my family’s listening routine as well. During the road trips we periodically took to visit our extended family and friends, the group’s songs would invariably provide a key part of the trips’ soundtrack. And rather remarkably, among the dozens and dozens of tracks we’d play during these adventures, there was one song in particular that unleashed the songbird in my daughter. Each time “Wasting My Young Years” emanated from the car’s speakers, she would pipe up and sing the chorus along with Hannah Reid, attempting to match—or at least echo—Reid’s soaring falsetto.
It, like the song and the album from which it derives, was lovely to behold. And it ensured that London Grammar would remain a permanent fixture in my heart and mind, not to mention within the family’s record collection.
Of course, “Wasting My Young Years” is just one of the many compositions on their breakthrough debut that showcase the undeniable power of Reid’s wide-ranging vocals juxtaposed with guitarist Dan Rothman and multi-instrumentalist Dominic “Dot” Major’s multi-layered, cinematic arrangements. Not surprisingly, on the strength of If You Wait, critics and fans alike paid close attention to the evolving musical stature of this unassuming threesome, and their contingent of loyal devotees continued to expand.
Released today in both 11-track and 18-track deluxe versions, London Grammar’s enthralling follow-up effort Truth Is A Beautiful Thing finds the notoriously fame-wary band making more than good on the promise of its precursor, while traversing nuanced creative directions as well. Considering its melancholic tones and the fact that Reid did experience the dissolution of her long-term relationship during the interim between albums, listeners may be inclined to label this the band’s "breakup" record.
However, at its core, Truth is about disenchantment and loneliness in their various and more universal incarnations, beyond the romantic variety alone. Thankfully, the eleven songs on offer here avoid being engulfed by despair, and instead reveal glimmers of hope and resolve throughout.
“The first album was a lot more about relationships, but then the second one is too—but in a different way,” Reid confided to NME earlier this year. “It’s probably about the relationship you have with yourself, rather than one specific other person. The relationship that us three had on the road, and there’s a lot about the meaning of life in general, which is SO lame, but that is what we talk about!”
Emblematic of the band’s discernibly grander, more sweepingly orchestral sound is album opener and lead single “Rooting For You,” which finds Reid exploring the paradox of being “scared of loneliness / when I'm, when I'm alone with you,” before vowing to her partner that she will support him, even as their connection fades. The track, along with a handful of others across the album, benefits from the expert production touch of Paul Epworth (Adele, Coldplay, Florence + The Machine), who’s wise enough to grant Reid ample space to stretch her voice, which mesmerizes more than ever here.
While many of Truth’s songs derive from disenchantment, Reid often processes her disappointment with a mature pragmatism and grace, coupled with a refreshing sense of empowerment. “Big Picture” is a slow-burning ode to self-realization and newfound resolve, in which Reid concedes, “Only now do I see the big picture / But I swear that these scars are fine.” She extends the sentiment in the ambient “Wild Eyed,” with allusions to an open mind and willingness to explore new opportunities being the keys to moving on from a stifling relationship.
Arguably the album’s supreme standout, the anthemic “Oh Woman Oh Man” examines a relationship that frays and fractures, but more broadly revolves around Reid’s commentary on gender dynamics and the life-altering decisions a woman must make when determining the life path (and partner) she pursues. The plaintive “Hell to the Liars” unfurls as a clarion call to rise above—and learn from—the world’s uglier elements, while appreciating life’s more redeeming moments. The sweeping, piano-driven “Bones of Ribbon” eloquently extols the virtues of self-preservation and determination in a world that is often unforgiving.
Truth concludes with the stark yet stunning ballad and title track, with Reid confessing to her object of affection that he holds the cure for her feelings of detachment, proclaiming “To hold your heart, to hold your hand / Would be to me, the greatest thing / To hold your heart, hold your hand / Would be to me, the bravest thing.”
Though I’m sure Reid could sing the dictionary and still tingle plenty of spines, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing is ultimately bolstered by her hyperbole-free introspection and candor, which appeals even to the more stoic hearts among us. As with truth, London Grammar’s second song suite is a beautiful thing, indeed.
Notable Tracks: “Big Picture” | “Bones of Ribbon” | “Hell to the Liars” | “Oh Woman Oh Man” | “Truth Is A Beautiful Thing”