Allo Darlin' - Europe
released 7 May 2012 on Fortuna POP!
For any artist, the debut album is absolutely pivotal. It’s the culmination of all life experiences collected up to that point and a real statement of intent for a potential career. It’s a manifesto; a way of presenting to the world who you are and how you see things. It’s also a tremendously exciting time; countless are the artists who never made it to that first record stage, so it’s a kind of validation of your work and says what you do has some kind of intellectual merit.
Because of this, debut albums often contain the kind of hunger and naivety it’s near-impossible to replicate on subsequent releases. Allo Darlin’’s self-titled first record was such an album – at times, it seemed as though the band were subsisting on fizzy pop alone and then locked in a sweet shop when it came time to record. Allo Darlin’ had its contemplative moments too, but for the most part it was an album full of bounce and sheer joy, created by a group of people very much in love with life.
Alas, we all get older and, as anyone over the age of about 21 can attest, getting older is rubbish with very few redeeming features. Responsibilities accumulate, money becomes more and more of an issue, and moments of worry-free abandon are ever more scarce. This isn’t to say Allo Darlin’ have gone all Lou Reed on us, far from it in fact, but there’s certainly a more measured approach to Europe. It’s a record made by a band with one album obviously under their belt who are carrying the associated freedoms (studio time) and restrictions (pressure) that come with it.
The most disappointing thing about Europe is the failed attempt at a sonic leap forward. Whereas the debut record was often unadorned and gave prominence to the humble ukulele, the songs on show here have a much thicker sound. However, that’s all it is – thicker. The sound is largely the same but it appears the gaps have just been filled in, whether it be with reverb or other components. There are lovely flourishes interspersed throughout, but the climactic releases are that bit less effective and the entire record has something of a samey feel.
From its title downwards, Europe is an album preoccupied with travel and the concept of home. This is unsurprising as lead singer, Elizabeth Morris, is an Australian living in London. She appears to be reflecting on what she’s left behind, both people and places, and how she’s growing ever more accustomed to life in the UK. On Tallulah (a doppelgänger of the first record’s Heartbeat Chilli), an Australian road trip is recounted, listing place names such as St. Kilda and Bondi Beach, and she’s wondering about, “when I find you under Capricornia skies”, on lead single, Capricornia. On the other side of that coin, The Letter talks about finding, “solace in the shattered dreams of England”, and the zippy Northern Lights makes the couplet, “Jump feet-first through the snow / We’re never going home”, sound like the most appealing thing possible.
Morris’ vocals and lyrics are the strongest part of Europe. She projects a character that is adventurous and prone to whimsy, but displays enough vulnerability and humanity to ensure we don’t ever stray into twee or Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory. In truth, her presence and dexterity transform an otherwise average indiepop record into something with depth which is tinged with melancholy and becomes an affecting look at life in your 20s.
It’s a shame the production doesn’t quite match up to the quality of the vocals and melodies. Strangely enough, the meandering nature of the instrumentation actually matches the rootless sentiments and feelings of wanderlust articulated in the lyrics, though that’s far from ideal. We can all relate to the ideas expressed in Europe: big cities are simultaneously thrilling and terrifying, we’re scared of losing touch with people we love while being excited to meet new friends, and we know our memories are among the most important things we have. The giddy enthusiasm of Allo Darlin’ has been replaced by something more substantial and grown-up, yet it’s still an optimistic LP at heart. It’s just a shame that the music can’t match this progression. Europe often finds itself lacking in ideas and sticking to de rigueur jangle and well-trodden indiepop tropes.