Grand Duchy falters with amateurish new album
An album shouldnât have to resort to coaxing its listeners into enjoying it, yet the sophomore effort from electro-punk duo Grand Duchy does just that. Frank Black, the former frontman of The Pixies, rejoins his wife Violet Clark for Let the People Speak, which presents itself as the feature debut on a radio station hosted by DJ Jonathan L.
The result is contrived, awkward and amateur at best. Jonathan L crowds the empty space between tracks with mindless babble and even takes a staged phone call from a caller with an artificial European accent who swoons, âI love Grand Duchy. Play some more.â
But thatâs not to say that the radio-block gimmick is interrupting much substance to begin with.
When Clark drops statements such as âif Petits Fours [the duoâs first LP] was missionary, Let The People Speak needs to be doggy style,â the album should pack a punch â or at least live up to the hype thatâs been generated for it. And when band members share an offstage romantic partnership, the onstage collaboration promises a certain intimacy, passion or coalescence that draws from whatâs real. Black and Clark fail to reach any of these potentials.
After Jonathan Lâs âall around the world, liveâ introduction fades, the album launches into a series of disparate synth lines, electric guitar riffs and melodies that comprise a combination of shrieking, moaning and panting.
Itâs not the pairing of these three components or Clarkâs half-chanted, breathy trills that make the album fizzle. In fact, the combination is a signature sound of Canadian rock band Metric and its lead singer Emily Haines, whom Clark clearly channels as she steps into her own as a vocalist.
Instead, the duoâs pitfall stems from tired lyrics, empty inspirations and overall lazy composition. On âIlliterate Lovers,â itâs possible that Clark takes a shot at reminiscing about failed relationships to accentuate her marriage with Black, but the song never seems to ignite. Clark sounds downright sophomoric when she croons, âIlliterate lovers / You never read me right / Go back to night school.â
The lyrics get progressively worse as Let the People Speak trudges reluctantly forward. On the penultimate track âROTC,â Clark sabotages any glimmer of her lyrical potential with lines like, âIt isnât every day / You throw a big soirĂ©e.â Even Jonathan L seems to think this blemish needs a bit of lifting, or perhaps heâs just being sarcastic when he raves, âAny song that has the word âsoirĂ©eâ has got me. It just kicks my ass. I love that word.â
Unfortunately, Jonathan L ends up drawing more attention to a gaffe that epitomizes Grand Duchyâs lyrical inexperience.
Let the People Speak isnât hopeless. The album features a couple of tracks â most notably, âWhite Outâ and âSilver Boysâ â with catchy hooks and touches like the staple triple-clap rhythm popularized by most alternative-dance anthems.
And on âGeode,â Clark attempts to slow the albumâs sporadic pace with some sultry whimpering, but itâs still not a truly original contribution. Itâs nothing you wouldnât hear on a B-side from Stars or early Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which isnât a bad thing. Not many artists, however, aspire to make music that sounds like another, bigger bandâs lesser-known material.
Whatâs noticeably absent from the duo â that is, aside from any real musical, lyrical or conceptual proficiency â is a genuine second member. Black takes a backseat, allowing Clark to develop as an artist on the album. Her style, characterized by synth pop and dance beats, is drastically different from Blackâs moody punk drawls, but to limited success; even the stale wit from Jonathan L commands more of a presence.
Black does step forward from his apparent role as de facto guest star with the bluesy, albeit out-of-place, number âShady.â Itâs a decent enough track, but listeners are reminded of what niche the former rockerâs trying to cater to when they hear the inclusion of Clarkâs intermittent teen-girl giggle and âyeah?â pulsing throughout.
The album concludes with the title track fading to silence without any trite remarks from Jonathan L, who might just be at a loss for words. Let the People Speak is a struggle to get through, and for better or worse the album showcases all the kinks in the duoâs attempt to establish itself while highlighting Clarkâs attempt to truly emerge as a performer.
âIs your glimmer kicking in?â Clark implores as she feigns insight on âGeode.â
The answer? Not yet.