American Authors - What We Live For (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
AMERICAN Authors found global success off the back of their anthemic hit Best Day Of My Life and deservedly so. It combined rock and pop to euphoric effect and gave everyone a summer lift with its easy-going sentiments.
What’s more, the song was just one of several on their debut album that – while following a similar formula – succeeded in putting a smile on your face with its power pop-rock combinations. The big question, however, was whether they could follow it up?
What We Live For delivers the answer with a hearty yes. But only just. Whereas some bands opt to mix things up straight away and take risks, American Authors have largely opted for more of the same.
Admittedly, some tracks lean more towards dance-pop than rock, while there are extra production elements designed to enhance the signature sound. But the cheesy, life-affirming sentiments remain intact, as does the mix of guitars, synths, banjos, hand-clap beats and foot-stomping choruses. It’s difficult not to get swept along at times.
Take album opener What We Live For, for instance. There’s a bouncy piano arrangement to usher in the song, before the lyrics kick in about getting in an old beat up car and hitting the open road. It’s an ode to “riding to the great unknown” complete with cheap sing-along sentiments such as “we can throw our hands up out the window, this is what we live for”. There’s who-ah oh harmonising and a slick mix of crunching rock riffs and pop-leaning organs.
It shouldn’t work as well as it does, emerging as a mix of 80s stadium rock bands and 90s boy bands, and yet you kind of want to hit the road with it.
I’m Born To Run is another song about the search for freedom and throwing off the shackles (“can’t hold me back from where I need to go”). It references yellow hills and deep valleys, piles on more “who-ah oh” harmonising, embellishes it with slick beat arrangements and then defiantly proclaims: “I’m going to live my life like I’m going to die young.” This is a singer who wants to see Paris and Tokyo and who doesn’t care if he gets hurt doing so.
As life affirming statements go, it’s one to rally behind. Work to live, not live to work. And we all need that reminder sometimes.
Pride, however, offers the first genuine alteration and benefits from it. There’s a sense of melancholy in lyrics that proclaim their home doesn’t feel the same. There’s uncertainty coupled with restraint. The beats are slower, the guitar replaced by banjo licks. It does eventually explode to life, however, with a chorus that proclaims “I I I I I’ve got this feeling” and then “I’m never giving up my pride, I’m never going to sell my soul”.
There’s a hint of Africana in some of the background harmonies, while the chanted chorus midway through is designed to whip the crowd into a sing-along frenzy in live form. And yet that sense of the bittersweet (the sadness coupled with the desire not to get dragged down) works to the song’s advantage. It’s one to rival the feel-good charm of that previous hit.
Admittedly, some of the incessant happiness can threaten to become tiring. But if Right Here Right Now instils a nagging sense of deja vu (Paris and Tokyo get referenced yet again), the chorus remains big, bolshy and somehow toe-tapping.
And so the rest of the album rumbles along in similar fashion, content to do what the band know they do best without overly stretching themselves. Nothing Better plays up the banjo sound and comes across as a more pop version of Mumford & Sons, Go Big Or Go Home once again aims to triumph over adversity and delivers a rollicking combo of big drums and breezy banjo licks, while No Love weaves in a synth sound that’s more Euro pop and Ibiza leaning. Again, though, it somehow works.
There’s a couple of obligatory ballads. Replaced, though, subscribes to the kind that shamefully manipulates your emotions, feels over-produced and ends up as the worst song on the LP. But Superman puts an interestingly melancholy spin on the current superhero obsession. It’s an interesting listen.
And then there’s two more songs worth noting. Mess With Your Heart is an acoustic power ballad that grabs your affections with its honest observations on modern life (from technology to guns) before proclaiming the power of love (“I’ll be your neon light in the dark”). It then delivers a grand, power-pop chorus that would just as easily go down a storm on the dance-floor.
Mind Body Soul, meanwhile, finds the band really dipping into melancholy territory (“my head’s a mess and I’ll never change” and “I miss my brother more than ever before, I wish we could have just one more drink, what I would give to watch me sing”). It’s a sobering final track, steeped in loss and uncertainty, that fights to find the optimism inherent in the rest of the LP. It’s anthemic but it contains more emotional power somehow – and it’s a great way to round things off. If it marks the start of a new, potentially darker direction, then roll on album three.
Right now, this delivers the expected and delivers it well.
Download picks: Pride, Nothing Better, Go Big Or Go Home, Mess With Your Heart, Mind Body Soul