Pop Etc - Pop Etc
The last album from these Californians-turned-New Yorkers, Big Echo, was a lot like Grizzly Bear. That band's Chris Taylor even produced it. Think dense, detailed indie, with strings, loads of guitars and cathedral-like production.
That, though, was when the band were still known as The Morning Benders. The change ostensibly came about because they didn't want to offend anybody, but in truth they were probably just sick of being giggled at by childish Britons. As it turns out, the transformation isn't just aesthetic. It's more fundamental than that. Indie is gone; the new sound is pop, with elements of R'n'B and soul. Pop, with some other stuff. Pop Etc.
Mostly pop, though. Front man Chris Chu's stated influences for the record were his childhood obsessions Boyz II Men and Madonna. You can hear it, loud and clear. Subtlety is something else the band have dispensed with. The vocals and melodies are bold as brass; Pop Etc want you to love or hate them, and they're not giving you much time to decide. This is a prime example of a Marmite album.
Here is the reason why people who'll love Pop Etc will love Pop Etc: it contains everything pop was ever good at. That means it's catchy; you'll know the words to songs like 'R.Y.B.' before the first chorus is even over. It could have been a 5ive single. Actually, this sounds like it was meant to be an entire album of singles. Remember how Michael Jackson used to release 90% of the tracks on his records? If Pop Etc were around in the 80s they'd have done that too.
The songs, by the way, all sound incredible. Production credits go to Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz) and Andrew Dawson (Kanye West, Destiny's Child), so you can understand why. Just listen to the ghostly synth on 'Everything Is Gone', or the opening percussion on 'I Wanna Be Your Man'. You won't find a slicker-sounding album anywhere in the British or US charts.
Here is the reason why people who'll hate Pop Etc will hate Pop Etc: it contains everything pop was ever bad at. To begin with, just look at the song titles: 'Back To Your Heart' is awful, but 'I Wanna Be Your Man' is worse. A more unimaginative subject matter would be hard to find. 'R.Y.B.' stands for 'rock your body', a title previously used by Justin Timberlake and the Black Eyed Peas. Christ, it's the same sentiment as 'Move Your Body' by Eiffel 65 - yes, the same people who wrote 'Blue (Da Ba Dee)'.
In fine pop tradition, the lyrics are all addressed to an unindentified, second-person 'you', 'girl' or 'baby'. Some of the words here are even a bit morally suspect, like 'Live It Up's celebration of infidelity on tour - "I keep my main chick back at home; she wants to know why I don't pick up the phone."
The arrangement of the songs is pretty simplistic. The synths are well produced, but you've heard them a million times before. The vocals are autotuned with violence.
So, a Marmite album. love it or hate it. If there's any grey area at all, it's in the fact that Pop Etc's best songs are its most subtle. 'Everything Is Gone', for example, starts with a relatively subdued verse, then unexpectedly sheds layers on the chorus. 'Why'd You Do It Honey' is bleak and haunting. Plenty of interesting sounds lurk in the background. It's a reminder that, yes, this is still The Morning Benders, and they still have the old tricks up their sleeve. Perhaps they should use them more often, and get a bit more mileage out of the 'et cetera' in their new name.