The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Belong (Slumberland Records)
March 19, 2011 by Tshepo Mokoena
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have enlisted the help of Flood (The Smashing Pumpkins, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Jesus and Mary Chain) and Alan Moulder (PJ Harvey, A Perfect Circle) on their sophomore offering Belong. The result is, predictably, very 1990s. In fact, it is so much so that this record doesn’t really feel all that relevant in 2011.
The pop sensibilities that wooed the industry on their 2009 debut have been injected with a heavier intensity, mostly due to the distorted guitar sound on ‘Belong’. The title track and lead single explodes about fifteen seconds in, with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart perhaps eager to show that they’ve grown and developed over the last two years. It’s always tricky navigating the terrain of that second full-length release when working off hype from the first: just ask the Vines and The Killers. This particular four-piece seem to want to combat that by pushing their scuzzy pop sound into harsher territory. The result? Fairly average, but a valiant effort.
That Jesus & Mary Chain guitar texture that filled their eponymous debut with so much hazy warmth now feels forced, and almost clinical on this new record. Perhaps the production techniques of hugely impressive industry veterans has polished the Pains, but the new sheen sits incongruously with the lyrical content of most of the songs. Sticking to simple storylines, and avoiding the bulk of tongue-in-cheek jokes and puns that were scattered throughout their debut effort, Belong just doesn’t really have a spark that lasts for long enough.
At their toned-down moments, the sincerity they’ve made a name for themselves with is allowed to shine through. ‘Anne With An E’ in particular tones down all the new production tricks and takes the listener in beyond the guitar purr in a way that really works. This album has some good potential but perhaps falls victim to its own ambition. Be patient with it, and it may still reward you.