Last year, I was privileged enough to have been given the opportunity to review The Lodger’s debut album, Grown-Ups. This bit of retro jangle-pop made me feel as if the world had simply skipped from 1990 to the present day, a world in which grunge and electronica never existed. The album made those genres seem less like innovation and more like a dark cloud that simply obfuscated the joy inherent in `high note’ guitar driven pop. After all, who needed “Rape Me” and “Busy Child” when you could simply listen to “Oblivious,” “Pure” and “Painted Moon” all day? In my review, I was incredibly wary of how a sophomore album would turn out. In the music world, first acts are often easy. The second act usually falls flat. Very few albums end up to be the Empire Strikes Back of indie pop. But, in Life is Sweet, The Lodger not only live up to the promise of their debut, they surpass it, making their choice of title somewhat prophetic.
Nearly every single European jangle pop band has been referenced in relation to The Lodger. At different times throughout each of their two albums, you might find yourself thinking that the songs remind you of a particular group. However, in listening to the two albums as a `whole’ representation, their sound is distinctly their own. For instance, many dismissed Interpol as sounding too much like Joy Division, but after two albums, the comparisons mostly stopped and subsequent bands, like Editors, were instead compared to Interpol. In other words, The Lodger aren’t so much imitating their former heroes, they’re simply recalling the sounds and feelings of a bygone era that shouldn’t have gone by. With Life is Sweet, The Lodger seemingly put the sun back into the musical sky.
The harmonic intoxication of this album becomes evident by the second track, its lead single, “The Good Old Days.” Various touchstones will surely come to mind, including but not limited to Squeeze, XTC, the Lightning Seeds and Split Enz. This song alone has all the makings for vaulting the Lodger into the spotlight, most likely through a prominent soundtracked advertisement. After all, look what it’s done for the Ting Tings. The video is similarly and deliciously orange-y retro. (Possibly a reference to one of their favorite jangle pop bnads, Orange Juice?) As in their debut, there are certainly similar likenesses to the Smiths and Television Personalities, but the similarities are less to Morrissey’s downhearted lyrics than they are to Johnny Marr’s exquisite virtuoso guitars. Songs like “The Conversation” and “Nothing Left (To Say)” make you realize that the young acolytes of Marr and Roddy Frame are growing up.
If video killed the radio star, then grunge definitely gave jangle pop the beatdown of a lifetime. But the growls and marble-mouthed dour vocals couldn’t quite drown out the sound of joyous tinny strings. The Lodger have single-handedly brought back the sound of jangle pop and this listener couldn’t be happier. Now I don’t have to look at my Trashcan Sinatras records and sigh like a sad little monkey. Instead, I can revel in the thought that the genre is not dead, it was just in a grunge-induced coma. Of course, grunge is in the adjacent hospital bed, having been capped by hip-hop, awaiting resuscitation.