ALLO DARLIN': WE COME FROM THE SAME PLACE (2014)
1) Heartbeat; 2) Kings And Queens; 3) We Come From The Same Place; 4) Angela; 5) Bright Eyes; 6) History Lessons; 7) Half Heart Necklace; 8) Romance And Adventure; 9) Crickets In The Rain; 10) Santa Maria Novella; 11) Another Year.
Monoideism. 1. Focusing of attention on a single thing, especially as a result of hypnosis; term invented by James Braid, one of the first genuine hypnotherapists of the 19th century. 2. Major cause of everything that goes wrong with music (and not just music) today, well illustrated by the example of British/Australian twee pop band Allo Darlin'.
Going back to their debut album in my mind, I can still distinctly remember the cute little brilliant melodies of ʽDreamingʼ and ʽMy Heart Is A Drummerʼ, and the sweet-subtle excitement of thinking, «wow, this is so promising, there is really a lot they could achieve from here». With the release of the band's third album comes the ultimate realization: they are not even trying to go anywhere else because they never had any such plans from the very beginning. We cannot even accuse Elizabeth Morris of turning out so much less talented than we thought her to be — because she has not the slightest intention to move her talents away from the little green lawn that was carefully prepared, irrigated, and fenced on Allo Darlin'. J'y suis, j'y reste.
If you are already head over heels in love with the well-educated Australian girl who cuts her hair relatively short, plays the ukulele, and combines hip intellectual lyrical imagery with a streak of quasi-childish idealism, and if you already wanted to sue me for all the bile spilled over Europe, this third record of theirs will be an epiphany. To be fair, I think the melodies are a wee bit stronger than on Europe, but it may be an illusion — the band is certainly not studying any new chord progressions here and not moving one step away from the twee-pop formula, so any observable differences are limited to nuances, well perceivable and significant only for major fans whose eyes turn into magnifying glasses and ears into stethoscopes at the first note of the uke.
No surprise that almost every review of the album that I have seen immediately turns to the only aspect of the record that is relatively easy to discuss — the lyrics and their realization. No surprise, indeed, because now we know that Allo Darlin', the pop band, is really nothing but a front for Elizabeth Morris, Singer-Songwriter (Extra)-Ordinaire, and that their soft, lyrical, gentle, but rhythmic and tightly focused melodies are just a mood-enhancing accompaniment for the world philosophy of Ms. Morris.
The problem is, that philosophy hasn't changed much, either, and is getting a bit wearisome third time around. There is nothing wrong with hazy-eyed romantic «can-I-really-really-make-this-sound-intelligent-rather-than-clichéd?» confessions as such, but if they turn out to be your regular way of making a living rather than a phase that you go through in life, there's something unspeakably wrong with that — I mean, Kate Bush's The Kick Inside has always been one of my personal favorites indeed, but I would not be happy at all if the rest of her career all consisted of innumerable clones of that album.
And this is the way the title track begins: "First snow's melting on the ground / And I can see my breath / In your silhouette / And I remember what it felt like to be warm / And to be safe in love". Uhh... okay. All right, so maybe I was wrong here — maybe the lyrics do not really matter, maybe this whole album is just Elizabeth's way of saying "I want to hold your hand" on a slightly (very slightly) advanced level of technicality. Maybe we should forget all about that singer-songwriter business. But in this case, where are the great pop melodies? If the words do not matter, give me great pop melodies, not just this unmemorable jingle-jangle.
A tune like ʽSanta Maria Novellaʼ (the name of one of the most principal basilicas in Florence) helps uncover some of life's realities — namely, that the band, or at least its principal member, has relocated to Italy where, according to her interviews, she teaches English for a living because the band has no way of making any serious money. Strange as it is, though, you could not guess that from the music, which bears no traces of Italian influence (perhaps for the best, because I am not sure how Allo Darlin' would have coped with a whiff of canzone Napoletana) — yet knowing something about their struggles at least confirms the single positive thing about We've Come From The Same Place: as predictably monotonous as it is, Morris and her pals are being true to themselves, and, unlike so many poseurs, only agree to record stuff that is imbued with reflections of real feelings, sifted as they are through an intentionally intellectual "and you read your Emily Dickinson and I my Robert Frost"-type verbal sieve. (Not quite as much here as on the previous two records, though — even in a song called ʽHistory Lessonsʼ, the only namechecked piece of historical reality turns out to be... the Lion King!).
Probably the only song here that could have some limited radio potential is ʽBright Eyesʼ, a duet between Morris and one of the boys where she asks him "do you believe in fun? do you believe in love?" in a thrilled exorcising voice and he calls back "I surely do, I do if you ask me to" in the voice of a happy willing victim, fully conquered through hypnotism (James Braid strikes again!). Additionally, this is one out of only two or three songs where they allow their guitars to develop a touch of distorted laryngitis (along with ʽHalf Heart Necklaceʼ), and Paul Rains plays a nice guitar solo. Who knows, maybe what this music really suffers from is the lack of sufficient contributions from the band's other members.
In the glowing AMG review — glowing, because Morris does have this knack of melting the hearts of cruel guys with keyboards — Tim Sendra called the album a collection of "intimate and true songs about love, life and how to deal with each", and implied that only somebody tired of hearing such songs could be dissatisfied with the record. Well, strange enough, because (a) I do agree with the definition in general and (b) I am in no way tired of hearing such songs, and am not prepared to ever get tired of hearing them, and yet I am still dissatisfied. Mostly, I am dissatisfied because, no matter how «intimate and true» these songs may be, the truth and intimacy have turned into a predictable formula, like minor variations on the exact same sermon that, for some reason, you have to attend every Sunday.
How do we mend this? I have not the faintest idea, even if I am sympathetic enough to the band to keep on hoping and wishing that it eventually gets mended. Perhaps the first thing to do would be to write a song that tries to deal with something other than the basic theme of «me and you». How about «me against the world?» Nah, too pretentious for a girl with a ukulele. Perhaps «me and my evil twin». On second thought, there's no evidence so far that she even has an evil twin. Maybe «me and my traumatic childhood experiences»? But I guess if she had any, she'd have let the cat out of the bag a long time ago. Ah, forget it. Just brace yourself for about fifty-six more Allo Darlin' twee albums that will tweely explore the twee-sted relations between the protagonist and the antagonist from all geometrically possible perspectives — under the Tower of Pisa, on top of Notre-Dame, and, ultimately, at the bottom of Niagara Falls. As the already mentioned Paul Simon also said, "there must be 50000 ways to say weird crap about your lover".