The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s new album, Belong, marks a band evolving from the type of group that sounded like they recorded in their bedroom to a band that thousands of fans will sing along to from their own bedrooms. The band has always carried on the new-wave pop sensibilities of the mid-eighties and that continued recently five or ten years ago, but Belong is their first record that captures the Duran Duran kind of mastery of the hook, so irresistible and contagious. These songs have heart and beat, swagger and sincerity, and are unapologetically catchy.
These are the qualities that make this record noteworthy. This struck me while listening to the first and title track “Belong” as lead singer Kip Berman chants “We Don’t Belong” to an epic wall of guitar fuzz a la Smashing Pumpkins circa 1994. No one makes music like this anymore.* The music that matters at the moment has a detached personality; sometimes ironic and always cool: LCD Soundsystem, Flying Lotus, The Decemberists, M.I.A. Like we’re all well read or deejays (or both). And here’s The Pains of Being Pure At Heart embracing adolescence while yearning (“Tell me what your body’s for/ I wanna hurt like I did before”) or being anthemic (“She put the heart in your heartbreak/ The miss in your mistake)” with a sincerity that only rock and roll can seem to conjure. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart really do seem to have pure hearts — honest, passionate hearts — not belting out their convictions, but sweetly cooing them to us perched atop a wall of quietly overdriven guitars.
Sure, the band wear their early/late nineties influences like buttons on their favorite hoodie, but Belong sounds as if My Bloody Valentine tried to turn themselves into a The Cure cover band. “My Terrible Friend” even sounds like a song you’re sure The Cure wrote, but just can’t seem to find in your record collection. This record is fun in that same way, full of singles ripe for plucking onto a new mixtape. “Heart In Your Heartbreak” and “Even In Dreams” stand out, but the whole album is excellent in its pacing and balance – enjoyable all the way through — the perfect equation for an excellent album.
*Authors note: I know, by saying this, that I am completely discounting most, if not all, of the small rabble that still represents what used to be Top 40 material, but so be it, no apologies.