Wednesday, 18 March 2009
The Law of the Playground
The Boy Least Likely To - The Law of the Playground
released 9 March 2009 on Too Young to Die
When The Boy Least Likely To released their début in 2005, you’d be forgiven for dismissing them as a couple of indie milksops with less cojones than a castrato. The album was called The Best Party Ever, the cover art featured crudely-drawn cartoon animals and balloons on a dazzlingly-bright yellow background, there was more glockenspiel than a primary school music class and a song about old-fashioned fizzy drinks (Warm Panda Cola). However, given a bit of time to bed in, it had more substance than you would have initially thought. Fun and bouncy on the outside maybe, but songs on the fear of growing up (Monsters) and woozy, lurching pop tunes (Sleeping with a Gun Under My Pillow) marked The Boy Least Likely To as potential successors to Belle and Sebastian’s crown.
Like Belle and Sebastian in recent years, The Boy Least Likely To have beefed up their sound somewhat, with more thought given to the production nudging them towards the mainstream and away from their lo-fi roots. However, that’s where the similarities end, because where Belle and Sebastian have managed to keep sight of what marked them out in the first place, The Boy Least Likely To, well, haven’t. It’s as if they looked at their last album, reduced it into three key ideas (namely childlike innocence, catchy hooks and a sprinkling of school music box instruments) and forgot about the subtleties and nuances that made the first album more than just disposable pop.
In fact, disposable pop is precisely what this album is. Now, there’s nothing wrong with something throwaway now and again, but it’s difficult to stomach over the course of eleven tracks. Each song may be perfectly fine in isolation, but put them all together and the relentless chirpiness of it will have you banging your head against the wall and reaching for the vodka. Whereas the first album had a ramshackle charm, The Law of the Playground appears calculated and oddly soulless. The sparingly-used childhood references in The Best Party Ever were interesting and made you smile, but here you are completely bombarded with them. The non-stop cutesy imagery and saccharine melodies comprise something which could lead a psychiatrist to a fairly damning diagnosis.
So, in the interests of balance and subjectivity, the positive points. Well, the second half of the album is slightly less grating. In fact, the middle track, The Boy Least Likely To is a Machine, is pretty good - it ditches the juvenilia and provides a bit of much-welcomed paranoia and gives hope that the band do actually have some grip on reality. For the first time, the band hit on a revolutionary idea which most musicians know as ‘minor chords.‘ Unfortunately, the next song is all about a cat and is entitled Whiskers. Enough said.
The full list of nostalgic references would be extremely long, but as a brief snapshot, this album mentions: conkers, balloons, marbles, pea shooters, rainbows and more besides. Most heinous of all is Every Goliath Has Its David which brings up that most irritating of cartoon characters, Scrappy-Doo (“I’m not a coward/I’ve got puppy powers”). That sound you can now hear is your own teeth gnashing as you cringe.
The world view that runs through the album can be summed up by the title of one of the songs: When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade. Now, that’s not a bad philosophy on life to have in all honesty, but for music to resonate it needs a bit more substance. At its best, The Law of the Playground is a bit of light relief on a cloudy day. At it’s worst, it’s irritating and infuriating and sounds like a Toploader album written for ten-year-olds. If The Boy Least Likely To concentrated more on writing music they want to write rather than what they think other people want them to write, they could have their day in the sun once more.