January 17, 2012 - 4AD
The Big Pink represent far more than simply the duo behind the admittedly fantastic earworm single "Dominos" from their 2009 release A Brief History Of Love. That album and Future This, their second full-length, places the band as one of the main representatives of the radical shift that the indie rock scene—and their label, 4AD, in particular—has taken over the last decade.
During the first 20 years of 4AD's existence, seeing their imprint on an album was a guarantee that you were going to hear some of the most idiosyncratic and daring pop or rock music around. These days, though, the label seems to be playing it safe. For every mind-fuck of a release they unleash on the world (Scott Walker's The Drift), there are a dozen more that ride a conservative line to guarantee maximum appeal: The National, St. Vincent, Bon Iver, Broken Records.
The Big Pink are one of the brightest lights in this new constellation of recent 4AD successes. But listening to Future This, it's impossible to avoid the feeling of both band and label playing it safe. True, this is likely the savviest move they could make, considering the strain that the music industry is under. But it would have been nice to hear the Big Pink challenge themselves and their fans. As it stands, Future This rides a very similar line to what they did on History. The songs are smeared over with cracked paint-like overlays of synth and shimmers that allow their bright, radio-ready pop hooks to shine through. Every song feels like it has been focus-grouped to ensure mass appeal. There's not an unsure note or even the tiniest bit of discordance to be found.
There's certainly nothing wrong with this kind of songwriting. The album is, after all, incredibly easy to listen to, particularly the spiny and prickly title track and "Hit The Ground (Superman)" which uses a staccato Laurie Anderson sample to a delightful effect. Elsewhere, the songs bleed into one another making it hard to tell them apart. The bubbling chorus of "Rubbernecking" could easily be swapped out for the similarly frothy "Give It Up" with hardly any confusion. That sameness also unfortunately emphasizes the limitations of Robbie Furze's vocal range. He has an appealing and fairly distinctive timbre that barely hides his English accent. There's just no flair to it; it just lies atop the songs like a sheet.
What you can be assured of is that Future This will be another step forward for the Big Pink. Their already rabid cadre of fans will drink it up in huge gulps, the singles will likely end up in moderately heavy rotation on the cooler alt-rock radio stations out there, and band and label will make some decent money. But to these ears, everything about the album just feels lazy. Everyone involved seems to simply be shrugging along in an almost cynical fashion, figuring people will buy it no matter what they do. If we don't start demanding more from bands and labels soon, we may head toward a kind of vague, taupe-colored future. C'mon, nobody wants that.