It’s hard to review an album when your words just don’t feel big enough.
I worry that nothing I write can capture the all-encompassing euphoria of its high points, nor the depth of emotion found elsewhere. I worry that nothing I write will go any length towards unravelling the importance of this album to fans around the world. I worry that you’re going to read this review, and my words might not convince you to go away and listen to the album.
As a queer woman, I feel as though I cannot overstate the significance of MUNA’s debut About U. Its twelve tracks are an unflinching and unapologetic documentation of the LA trio's lives, and by extension the lives of so many queer women the world over. To hear our own lives reflected in music made by people like us is still devastatingly rare; and to hear a pop album openly mention queer sex in its opening track (“So Special”) is even more so.
Anthemic singles “Loudspeaker” and “I Know A Place” are still the album’s standouts. Tthe title track from the trio’s debut EP, “Loudspeaker” sees lead singer Katie Gavin deliver that heart-stopping line, “Every time I don’t shut up, it’s revolution.” Coming from this particular band, who never shy from using their platform to oppose oppression in various forms, there’s a crystalline truth to that phrase that resonates long after the track has faded out.
“I Know A Place” saw the band take to Twitter, declaring that “this song was written for queer folks, for people of colour, for immigrants, for those who have been made to feel unsafe in their own skin”. It seems a bold claim for a pop song, but for MUNA it’s no less than a mission statement. “I Know A Place” embodies their signature sound; at once heartbreaking and highly danceable. Gavin’s distinctive voice peals out on one of the album’s hugest choruses, the music beneath it swelling with an inviting warmth that never once tips over into triteness.
With five singles and an EP preceding the release of About U, the only conceivable criticism of the album is fuelled by a hunger for as much new music from the trio as is humanly possible. With just five previously unheard tracks (one of which is an outro), fans may feel a little hard-done-by. That said, the resultant tracklist is a beautifully balanced thing, drawing to a close with the sweeping, cinematic grandeur of heartbreak ballad “Everything”. In an impeccable feat of pop craftsmanship, MUNA find a way to marry the melodrama of lines such as “I am only here to tell you / I am eviscerated” with their shifting, shimmering landscape of synths and guitars.
As the guitar solo of the outro gives way to flickering reverb, and then fades altogether, I find myself considering why this band hold such weight in the hearts of their small but dedicated fanbase. In 2017, it’s not enough to have an ear for hooks and a frontwoman with a bonkers haircut, so what’s their secret ingredient? In MUNA’s case, I reckon it’s nothing more complex than the fact that all three of them really, truly give a shit: about pop music, about activism, and about each other. The depth of that feeling shines through in everything they have shared with us thus far, and About U is no exception.