February was a good month for The Big Pink. Not only had they just been signed to British inde label 4D (along with the likes of Bon Iver and TV on the Radio), but they won the NME Philip Hall Radar Award for best new act as well. Needless to say that after all this expectations were quite high for their debut album, and their own aims were very high as well. A Brief History of Love was to be a concept album of sorts, with each song tackling a different aspect of love, be it "The good, the bad, the boring, the exciting, the dreams, the nightmares," according to member Milo Cordell. Everything seemed poised to be great, but despite the band's captivating early singles (included on the album), the band's long awaited debut is just, well, not that good.
A Brief History of Love starts with a luring intro that explodes into a slab of noise with an unremarkable, though adequate melody. There is nothing new or exciting, but it's got a good beat and the vocals harmonize well. It leads into a slightly more industrial sounding track, Too Young to Love, which is able to carry the momentum, but when Dominos comes after, the album's continuity stops in its tracks. The shoegaze to industrial switch up made sense, but now indie britpop? It's also at this point that it starts to look like the duo (vocalist/guitarist Robbie Furze and programmer/synth player Cordell) are more interested in song ideas than actual song writing, as the writing consists of one hook and little else. It's not even as if the band only fall short when compared to their apparent nineties influences; these styles have been done far better in the last year by A Place to Bury Strangers and Glasvegas, respectively.
The problem with lead single Dominos is that while the chorus and harmonization are catchy, there's really nothing else to it, and it's ultimately little more than a reasonably memorable song about growing bored of relationships. Not only does its style far exceed its substance, but it also rubs off oddly onto the following track, the quite-lovely-on-its-own Love in Vain. To hear Furze croon the line, "If you really love him then tell me that you love him again," in such a crestfallen fashion a mere minute after he is triumphantly declaring that "these girls fall like dominoes," one can't help but wonder how genuine could he possibly be. True, it's not as awkward as Justin Timberlake's ridiculous tenth grade love letter lyrics in My Love paired with T.I.'s guest rap that is exactly to the contrary, but it rings false all the same. It's also true that musically speaking, it is the first point on the record where two songs authentically click.
After the admittedly pretty Velvet, Furze and Cordell decide to go retro with Golden Pendulum, but they push the synth gimmick too far and end up sounding like a bad Adam Ant song (Strip, to be exact), and whatever steam was present is gone by the time Frisk starts. The closing Count Backwards from Ten sounds like a Pixies song with all the energy sucked out, and if Black Francis thought that an unironic chant of "Better off dead" would sound good.
The real fatal flaw here is that The Big Pink come across as little more than a couple of guys trying to exude one of their favorite bands with each song, and upon repeated listens this becomes more evident. As a result, it's not cohesive at all, and while it's perfectly enjoyable (it's kind of like a good mixtape, because I like these bands almost as much as they do), it doesn't really have much of an identity of its own. Basically, A Brief History of Love is a collection of decent ideas and passable songs, but it's not much of an album.