Love Yes…those bold block letters on that garish, red-tinted cover certainly reek of the 1980s and, worryingly, those “We Are The World” global love-type clichéd messages come to mind, right?
Well, you’d be half right anyway. Taking on yet another musical blueprint, TEEN’s third album works the ‘80s synthpop hard, tossing in turn of the decade (that’s the 80s to 90s, folks) R&B flavours, and shades of Prince’s rock/pop/R&B genre melding.
The wrong assumption, however, would be thinking Love Yes is simply all join hands and love your brothers and sisters tripe. In fact, it’s nothing like that; it taps a root deeper than that, a root that needs care if one even is to get to the point of exercising that brotherly and sisterly love to their brethren. It’s an old, maybe worn out, saying that “you can’t love another if you can’t love yourself,” but it’s true. Lead songwriter Kristina “Teeny” Lieberson uses Love Yes specifically to tackle how difficult it is for women to love themselves given loads of external pressures to conform to an idealism while at the same time fitting the age-old empathetic, caring, motherly mold women have been cast in over the centuries.
To her credit, Lieberson comes at this from a number of different angles; the desire for “youthful skin” in lead track “Tokyo”, the acquiescing to a male lover in “All About Us” and “Free Time”, and the self-doubt whether another will ever come along to love you in the title track’s simple and, at once, hopeful and guarded question, “are you in love? / do you believe?”. Sister Lizzie gets in on the act with the album’s most affecting track, “Please,” as she yearns for her now-deceased father’s view on the type of woman she’s become and can be.
With keyboards front and center, Love Yes is a far more sonically complex affair than its predecessors, which works both for and against it. TEEN’s compositions are top-notch and their obvious drive to push themselves creatively is admirable, yet their quest for reinvention on every track bogs some down and puts them at odds with their messages. “Example” raises a much-worthwhile point about female role-models today, yet is tangled up in a dense, swirling minor-key synth arrangement; “Animal” is stuck going nowhere in plodding drone reminiscent of the most trying moments of the debut album. Lead single, “All About Us,” with its room to breathe and gleaming gem of a pop hook is a prime example of TEEN hitting the nail on the head on Love Yes.
Still, too many tools at your disposal and ambitiousness to a fault are good problems to have; everything is there for TEEN (and then some), it’s simply a matter of reigning in impulses and playing to a more concentrated list of strengths. Chalk it up as another transitional album of sorts; Love Yes has TEEN well on their way if they’re not already there.