Love Monster (Sony)
It seems so smooth, soothing even a tale of success and reward, that it’s almost meanspirited to point out there’s one fly in the ointment that is the Amy Shark story, a story which reached a stunning apotheosis with the chart-and-Hottest 100 favourite, Adore.
A story too which encompasses some of the best angles for Australian success: being discovered by Triple J (to get the alternative support at the beginning that can carry you even unto the bosom of corporate music); being signed by one such corporate music giant which hasn’t developed too many fresh talents in the past decade (to give that marketing push no one pretends doesn’t still matter); emerging after a decade or so of slugging it out in various genres and names before suddenly being an “overnight sensation” (to give the profile pieces that bit of grit that you don’t get from some ingenue sprung from a TV producer’s imagination); tapping into the style and sound, and the human behind the style and sound, of the biggest star to emerge from this corner of the world in recent times, Lorde (to give that first EP it’s story, and its drive; and give the subsequent album its new narrative as a break from that EP while tapping into some new names of note).
The fly? The maker of what at least one music magazine calls “soaring, emotive pop bangers”, and a performer whose connection with her audience in a live setting is palpable, Shark (off-stage, Amy Billings) who wrote the bulk of the album alone and co-wrote the rest, just isn’t that good.
Love Monster is a static mover of an album, multiple variations on a theme, which fail to lift because they fail to distinguish themselves because they fail to provide a compellingly original idea, which wouldn’t be half the problem it is if the copied ideas were, you know, good. It feels old before its time and dull before its end.
The formula is five-fold. First, provide a lyric which speaks from and to a troubled but not anguished emotional position: we’ve all been there and Shark understands, is the takeaway. Second, give that lyric a sense of troubles overcome, if not always triumphantly (Shark doesn’t pretend to be perfect) then at least approached with self-starting resolution. These stories/lessons are believable and frank. Not new, not insightful, but clearly pulled from within.
Third, a half tempo, half wandering melody which seems like a holding piece until the real melody arrives, is given a drum pattern to shift if from maudlin singer/songwriter of the 1990s to something like electro-pop emoter of the 20teens. Fourth, the chorus steps up half a gear to let you know that it is the chorus and not the verse, while not actually providing that promised “soaring”. Fifth, that chorus is given some further push in its second half to accentuate the positivity of the message, while still falling short of genuine elevation.
Jack Antonoff, the hitmaker-du-jour who followed Joel Little into the Lorde camp and gave the Kiwi’s second album a harder sheen and a shinier propulsion, gives All Loved Up some of the more interesting rhythm patterns on Love Monster, but the pop nous he brought to Taylor Swift and Lorde, and the energised youthfulness he took to St Vincent, are missing.
Little’s work on Never Coming Back is strong on atmosphere, and on Lorde first album moves, but you’ll be waiting a good long time – as in, forever - for the killer hook to arrive. He may as well have phoned this one in too.
But as much as these two are the moneymakers, and no doubt money-earners in the pack, the production is principally handled by the experienced Dann Hume, who dutifully reproduces their methods and their sounds and similarly reproduces their failure to ignite.
That failure though has to be put at the feet of Shark’s songs, which do sound like the work of someone who is a honest trundler, a hard worker without that extra element, and can’t recapture the moment of truth/zeitgeist/inspiration of her breakthrough that might be called genius, or may be better called lucky.