Review: Big Mess by Grouplove offers nostalgia and honesty

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records

Grouplove, the band famous for its anthemic, rock-pop singles, has added a brand new opener to its previously released LP, Big Mess. The album, which was originally released in 2016, attempted to build on Grouplove’s signature joyous sound — this time with the divergent undertone of looming parenthood and responsibility.

“Remember That Night,” the album’s new opener, is a nostalgic pop-synth track that makes listeners want to let go of love just so they can miss it. A sure hit among recovering broken hearts, the song manages to eclipse its generic context and trite one-liners (“Am I stupid or do I want you back?”) with a snappy chorus and tender opening that practically drips off singer Christian Zucconi’s forlorn vocals.

“I’m feeling like it’s only the lonely who know we are,” he yowls, calling listeners to unite in their angst as well as dance with it.

“Welcome to Your Life” and “Do You Love Someone” are generic indie rock songs that fail to stray from Grouplove’s snarly sound, but nevertheless inspire an enthusiastic dashboard tap. “Standing in the Sun” feels meaningless despite a smattering of engaging lyrics (“God says it’s kind of hard to believe him”) that find themselves buried under an overworked melody. Tracks like “Enlighten Me” and “Good Morning” are catchy but boring  — their significance requires focus beyond the pre-chorus, which demands too much attention from listeners.

However, the second half of the LP offers a welcome and novel honesty that the first half seems to belie. “Spinning” sees Zucconi and Hannah Hooper’s voices interweaved into a promising dialogue with brave declarations of hopelessness: “It’s like I found my only child gone missing.” In comparison,  “Cannonball” bursts with ceaseless confidence that has the pair wrestling with the guitars for center stage.

One of the record’s highlights, “Traumatized,” begins with a poetically simple sentiment of devotion: “She is my only one true love in the world!” Zucconi disclosed that the track was written about his then-pregnant partner, Hooper. With glaring ’90s influences and an earnest amalgam of fear and anticipation of an oncoming change, the track could have easily been the album opener.

Grouplove continues its streak of charged love songs with “Heart of Mine,” a proposal of partnership lead by Zucconi’s thrilling voice that manages to convey both the feelings of desperation and endless hope that often come with companionship. The band’s signature levity returns with “Don’t Stop Making It Happen,” an upbeat track with a head-banging percussion and prevailing joie de vivre.

In “Hollywood,” the LP’s closing track, the word “tired” sounds gorgeous and real in a stripped down number that Zucconi and Hooper truly make their own. The track conveys the authority with which exhaustion can seize one’s emotional reserves, highlighting the profound contemplation beneath Grouplove’s popular sound.

“I’m more than just a memory,” cries Zucconi to Hollywood, coming full circle to his dismissal of an old flame as “something of a memory” in “Remember That Night.” The contradiction brings listeners back to the big mess that is love, companionship and musical artistry.

Flaws aside, Big Mess finishes as a meditation on what listeners can assume to be the artist’s process — from exhaustion to celebration, big mess to little mess and love to memory.