I don’t know anyone who would call themselves a Glasvegas fan. It’s genuinely strange. For a band with such a huge following, there’s only one person I know who owns any of their records. Based on influence alone, they should be the perfect band – shoegaze squall meets girl-group tragedy – but there’s just something about the band that just rubs my social circle the wrong way, and I’m pretty confident that something is the band’s lynchpin James Allen.
It’s nothing to do with his pronounced Glasgow accent which, on deeply underrated early single ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’ suits its intensely personal lyrics, even if it renders many of the band’s other songs more unintelligible than most Sigur Rós material. It’s not the unashamedly classic bent of his songwriting, which is pretty impressive as far as craft goes. It’s just…the way he carries himself as a frontman. Allen seems to struggle with the divide between honesty and earnestness – his songs veer more towards self-pity than self-expression – and consequently, he can’t help but sound childish, mawkish or ridiculous. Compound that with his self-cultivated mystique – wheeling out disappearances, bouts of insanity and prodigous drug use – and you’re left with a man who feels too compelled to occasionally remind people that he and his band exist.
With that in mind, it’s hard not to listen to Glasvegas’s second LP, EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \\\, as more of a solo effort, peddling a far more heavily-synthesised sound than the fifties throwbacks on the band’s eponymous debut – thanks in no small part to the presence of Flood on co-production duties. His sweeping synthscapes make a comfortable bed for some of the album’s more emotional numbers, particularly ‘You’, where a constant background drone and some unusually understated singing from Allen make a comfortable stab at atmosphereics – that is, until an effortless one-word chorus comes in (all together now: “YOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUU!”), and blows the track sky-high.
Likewise, ‘Lots Sometimes’ is a slow-building monster; any standard structure gets thrown out the window, as Allen warps verse after verse after verse of endearing underdog imagery (“I feel lower than the pavement when I think of you”) over the same four chords, ending each line with the bravado-filled title until the conflict proves too much for Allen, who receeds into swells of feedback after five minutes. There’s no way it should work, especially in such usually-clumsy hands, but it’s the album’s one moment of unadulterated triumph, where the album’s title actually makes sense.
However, so much of EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \\\ seems at once false and forced; there’s an unsuccessful exercise in eighties power-balladry (‘Whatever Hurts You Through the Night’), while ‘Shine Like Stars’ or ‘Euphoria, Take My Hand’ are nowhere near as ferocious as they think they are, existing merely as empty anthems with verses that kill time until predictably huge choruses take hold. Lead single ‘The World Is Yours’ is particularly emblematic; it’s straight-up indie-disco fodder, all twitchy hi-hats and stabbing guitars, but its broad statements and humongous chords can’t help but ring hollow. Even the depth of the album’s most genuinely emotional moments – on the pair of songs given the unfortunatly unsubtle subtitles of ‘Homosexuality Parts 1 and 2′ – is eviscerated by their cavernous production, which removes any sense of personality or intimacy from the surprisingly well-rounded character that Allen depicts.
It’s this sense of emptiness that makes EUPHORIC :-) HEARTBREAK </3 less of the embarrassment it should be, and more of a simple bore; in spite of Allen’s heart-on-sleeve lyricism, bland sentiment seems to take over from any form of true emotion. And over the course of the album’s fifty minutes, that void leaves a pretty big echo.