Difficult follow-up syndrome is common in the music industry. The pressure of following up a hugely influential album often results in a confused, underwhelming effort that tries to succeed on all fronts, while somehow failing to satisfy on any of them. Some bands try to counteract this by opting for an intentionally “arty” or difficult follow-up. Unfortunately, trying to be artistic is like trying to be cool — if you’re trying, then you’re doing it wrong. MGMT’s Congratulations album from last year is a good example of this. The other, more common, method is to simply try and recreate the sound and energy of the album’s predecessor. Again, this rarely works — most great albums are about a moment in time, a specific feeling that can’t be recreated — and it is into this category that Glasvegas‘ second album Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\ falls.
Their eponymous debut album, released in 2008, was a near-perfect record, worthy to be mentioned alongside other great UK debut albums like Oasis’s Definitely Maybe, The Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, The Libertines’ Up The Bracket, and Klaxons’ Myths Of The Near Future. It’s interesting to note that, of those albums, Oasis are the only band that managed a truly successful follow-up, although Definitely Maybe is still considered their artistic high point by purists. Glasvegas was the quintessential epic debut — huge, pulsing drums (played standing up, Mo Tucker-style by now ex-drummer Caroline McKay) beneath swirling guitars and vocals sung in a Glaswegian accent so thick you could tar roads with it, courtesy of singer James Allan. It was full of songs that grabbed your attention and made you fall in love with music all over again: “Geraldine”, “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry”, “Daddy’s Gone”, and “Flowers and Football Tops” (or “Floowers and Fitba Tops” in its native Glaswegian) were amongst the best of 2008 — the powers that be agreed by nominating it for the 2009 Mercury Music Prize.
But enough dwelling on the past. It’s three years on and Glasvegas have released their highly anticipated follow-up, Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\ (henceforth referred to as just Euphoric Heartbreak for sanity reasons), which as you may have guessed, falls into many of the traps outlined in the first paragraph. It’s not that there is anything actually wrong with the album, it’s just that it’s missing that certain magic — that elusive X-factor — that made its predecessor such a work of art. In fact, it’s difficult to define exactly what it is that makes Euphoric Heartbreak so dissatisfying.
Let’s start at the beginning. The album opens with a fairly typical scene-setting atmospheric opener. You know the type: whispering, talking, echoes, guitars that slowly build before kicking into the album proper. In other words, the type of thing that sounds fine the first time you listen to it, but will inevitably get skipped on every subsequent listen.
The first real song then, is the first single, “The World Is Yours”, which goes some way to recreating the magic of the band’s debut. An epic foot-stomper, this shows a slightly different side of Glasvegas than expected — dancier, with heavier keyboards than in the past. Their traditional sound is still there, but this is a nice step up, and a great first single that’s instantly recognisable while hinting at new horizons. The “you don’t need me as much as I need you refrain” is as moving as anything they’ve done.
Track three, “You”, follows a similar vein: there’s a very slight but welcome electronica element underpinning much of the album. “You” displays this in some digitally effected vocals – it’s a nice touch that works well. Overall, the song is a decent one, although slightly let down by an over-simplistic chorus (the title moaned over and over). That’s a large problem with the album; the vocal melodies in general feel slightly under-developed, despite all the production. The songs are good, but feel like they could be better. “Shine Like Stars” is another good example; strident vocals over an electric keyboard pulse that again features the title sung on repeat in the chorus, albeit much more successfully this time. One feels that, if they had pursued this electronica element further, they could’ve had something really special.
“Whatever Hurts You Through The Night” is a ballad of the “power” variety that is not bad, but its enjoyment level will probably depend on how much you like these sort of songs. “Dream Dream Dreaming” is a highlight — a traditional rocker with an anthemic chorus worthy of the band’s reputation. “Lots Sometimes” is a nice enough number, if forgettable by the band’s own high standards. “Stronger than Dirt” is another relatively average song, it just sort of plods along and never really gets started.
Second single “Euphoria, Take My Hand” is a standout and possibly the album’s highpoint. A good example of what the band has set out to achieve on Euphoric Heartbreak: a mid tempo but powerful rock song, propelled along by a tumbling drum beat. Emotional, soaring vocals, and an unforgettable chorus; this is Glasvegas at their best. I just wish there was more like this on the album.
Overall, there’s nothing completely awful on Euphoric Heartbreak – quite the opposite, a lot of it is very good. But as you may have noticed from the above, I’ve focused a lot more on the album as a whole than individual tracks. The reason for this is that I’m just not feeling this album. How can you judge an album based on feelings, you ask? That’s easy, rock and roll is all about feelings. It’s the vibe created by the sounds and the mood it produces that is the reason that we enjoy music; contrary to popular belief, it’s not about technical ability and production. As much as I really wanted to like Euphoric Heartbreak, it’s sadly just not doing it for me. And in the end, that’s the only thing that really matters.