Haim ‘Something to Tell You’ – Review

27 Jul

Five years ago Haim sounded like a dreamy revelation. Their seamless blend of pop, rock and r&b was nothing new but the way they presented it, with contemporary production and bags of personality, certainly was. Their sound referenced and borrowed from the 1980s without being overly reverential, and they took as much from Kanye West as they did Fleetwood Mac. Their innovation was both a blessing and a curse in the long run as in ‘Days Are Gone’s’ aftermath plenty of other artists borrowed its template quite exactingly, from the relatively obscure (Bleachers, Carley Rae Jenson) to the inescapable (Taylor Swift, Brandon Flowers). So where to go from there? The stick or twist dilemma is nothing new for bands on their second album but it’s certainly a bit of a problem (albeit a good one) when your established sound is so recognisable and has been so influential.

For the most part Haim don’t do anything too drastic. Essentially they retain the soft rock, candy coated riffs and bubbling harmonies that were at the heart of ‘Days Are Gone’ whilst zooming in closer on the stylistic choices that were only hinted at last time around. This is not unusual sophomore album territory, and the album’s successes and failures are typical of any number of sequels. Individual influences are inflated and expanded upon – for example ‘Walking Away’ is an out and out r&b song and ‘Little of Your Love’ goes full on pop. On the whole these choices are logical and pay off; they convincingly demonstrate a range and ambition that was previously only implicit. Pleasingly, these moments of unadulterated adventure are actually the strongest on the record.

Ariel Rechtshaid is back behind the boards, and as one of the most impressive producers of the past decade, his distinctive style largely contributed to the success of Haim’s debut. Here though we may have reached saturation point. There is barely a snare sound, vocal, riff or synth line that hasn’t been pitch distorted, bent, warped or manipulated in some way. The collage of digital sounds is simply too overwhelming and too often distracts from the central melody or idea. ‘Days Are Gone’ sounded like a breath of fresh air but too often ‘Something To Tell You’ blows you away with a gust of noise. If the production hadn’t been so fussy and overpowering it might be easier to fall in love with the album but truth be told there are other concerns as well.

The song titles on Side A of ‘Something to Tell You’, don’t so much hint at the album’s subject as knock you around the head with it. ‘Want YOU back’, ‘Ready For YOU’, ‘Something to tell YOU’, ‘YOU Never Knew’, ‘Little of YOUR Love.’ The repetitive use of second person pronoun conveys the single mindedness, and perhaps lack of originality, that define’s the record’s lyrical concerns. Each and every song focuses on an aspect of love, usually from the perspective of a jilted lover and usually directed at the guilty party. Whilst Haim’s lyrics (all aspects of songwriting, including lyrics, are a group effort) are somewhat free of imagination they serve a typical purpose. They ask the listener to think about dynamics of a relationship that they perhaps hadn’t considered before. But they do so vaguely. Perhaps it would be more effective if the group weren’t so quick to rely on cliches to convey their messages. Looking back on a relationship they observe ‘we were one endless road’. As they eyeball the demise of said relationship they say ‘it’s slipping away’. Almost every line in every chorus feels expected which rather undoes the impact. The lack of originality doesn’t necessarily get in the way of these songs connecting with the listener but you’d expect more from three sisters who stand out from the crowd in so many other respects.

Perhaps that’s the great shame of ‘Something to Tell You’ – Haim play to very familiar archetypes, without doing much to imprint their own riotous personality. Instead they leave it to Ariel Rechtshaid (who has been helped extensively by Rostam Batmanglij) to pick up the pieces with a frazzling production that overwhelms the songs. This is an enjoyable album but at its core is a great one that has been undervalued and overcooked.

7/10

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