In the build-up to the release of their fourth album Lower Than Atlantis released a short, ten minute documentary (watch here) through their YouTube account, as some artists do, and I watched it, because I had a bad feeling about the record based on a few of its singles, and I wanted an explanation. I got one, because a large deal of said documentary was spent trying to justify the changes that are all too present on Self-Titled. A great deal of these changes were explained as ‘exploration’, ‘finding our sound’ etc. but after listening to the record they feel like excuses. I’ll make it clear early on that I didn’t like this album, and the reasons the band give are normally ones I praise. I like to see a band grow as musicians and develop, but I also like great records – and Self-Titled isn’t one of them.
I refuse to use the term ‘selling-out’, I think it’s incredibly stupid (and so should you), but there’s something all too commercial about Self-Titled and, if you’ll excuse me, it doesn’t sound like the Lower Than Atlantis I know and love, which I’ll acknowledge is sort of the point of the record. This feels like diluted and generic mainstream rock, and that’s a shame regardless of past material / triumphs. I wanted to keep an open mind, and for what’s it’s worth I tried really hard, but by the time the electronic thump of Ain’t No Friend finished I was struggling, and a few songs later I’d lost any hope that I could be objective about Self-Titled. Thankfully I don’t write for NME or Rocksound so it’s coo; I can say that the band have released better records, four better records in fact, and I can also say that Self-Titled is painfully average and only have to worry about the internet backlash from the fans it seems that Lower Than Atlantis are trying to appeal to this time around, because I’d like to think older fans would agree that Self-Titled isn’t a career high. Frontman Mike Duce and co. seem resigned to making substandard music without spark, without intensity, and it’s very obvious that there’s a lot less to enjoy on the bands fifth record, which begins strong and loses steam almost immediately as chugging lyrical locomotive Here We Go sets a bar which is never matched, or even contested.
Self-Titled is a strange sort of record, because musically it doesn’t do a whole lot wrong. Admittedly, the songs are fairly catchy, and they’re generally well written, but none outside of the opener stand out as anything significantly solid. Expects hooks which loosen their hold immediately, be it in the towering but soon toppling chorus of Criminal, or Time, which is a waste of. Granted, Lower Than Atlantis have grown as musicians, there’s a lot of experimentation here – new quirks – but that’s all they are, quirks, with any attempt to affect falling facedown flat. Just What You Need aims for seduction with a slow, crooning club feel, but it could also be the worst song the band have released thus far, regardless of some decent guitar work and it’s artistic direction. Lower Than Atlantis playing songs about clubs without taking the piss out of them doesn’t work, and it’s entirely unconvincing as Duce asks ‘You want it don’t you?’ as Robin Thicke watches from the VIP area and taps his toes in time, presumably making notes in the process to pass on to Pharrell for later use. There are bigger, heavier moments in Damn Nation and Live Slow, Die Old, both of which are much better, the latter carrying dancing guitars similar to The 1975, whilst the former is a more familiar, boisterous stadium-sized track, arguably the records best after Here We Go.
As I said, the songs are catchy enough, hook-filled, but the main issue is that there’s no depth, no substance. Musically it’s decent, but it’s also a record which sounds best when it’s playing in the background. Dedicating time to it after the first playthrough felt like a chore to me, and it’s partly because of Duce’s lyrics (mostly co-written with Dan Lancaster), which are unusually poor. It’s easy to see why One Direction wanted to take Emily as their own; it’s the kind of song which has ‘guaranteed boyband number one’ written all over it, very weak lyrically as Duce sings ‘Emily, won’t you sit next to me? / You’ve got such a pretty face I’m a waste of space but a boy con dream’ followed by the line ‘It sucks, you’re cool and I’m not’ in a way which suggests he’s ten years younger than he actually is, hanging out in shopping centres and slowly gathering the courage to ask a girl out for a smoothie, presumably whilst a younger Robin Thicke sits sulking outside Game. It’s almost laughably written, perhaps forgivable if Duce hadn’t shown in the past that he can write some excellent lyrics. Self-Titled almost seems to have been written for the masses, it’s as far from personal as a rock record can be; and at its worst it showcases a lacklustre pop mentality. Read along to English Kids In America and imagine Harry Styles and co. singing it; you’ll find it surprisingly easy, especially when Duce starts lamenting the lack of wi-fi. In the aforementioned documentary he said that he wanted to write songs which were more relatable on a larger scale, and although I wasn’t expecting more tracks about Watford or his daddy issues it’s painful to listen to just how much he’s regressed at times in order to make these songs accessible. During the acoustic opening to Words Don’t Come So Easily we find him falling off his chair during one of the more pathetic tracks lyrically, and although he makes light of it, the joke is most certainly on him when listening to it. You get the impression that the songs here could’ve been written by anyone, maybe not quite as well, but it perhaps wouldn’t take much. I’m a sucker for a good record lyrically, and Lower Than Atlantis have released some of my favourites, but there’s nothing here that I want to remember, or even care for a great deal – it just sounds listless and uninspired, lazy musings from a man who knows what’s in and what isn’t. I don’t know about anyone else, but I never expected Lower Than Atlantis to develop into one of those bands, and Self-Titled seems to fully capture their unfortunate, self inflicted transformation to mediocrity all too well.
If Self-Titled had been released by any other band than Lower Than Atlantis, as a debut say, I wouldn’t have made it to the end, and I normally like to give records a chance. I found myself bored early on, and this boredom only intensified as the record progresses; rest assured, this is an incredible dull mainstream pop-rock album. It lacks bite, it lacks heart, and it lacks anything really memorable after the opener. Call it ‘selling-out’, call it maturation, call it whatever the fuck you want, but frankly it just isn’t that good, and in releasing it Lower Than Atlantis have delivered one of the biggest musical disappointments of the year, and I’m not sure I could stomach another album like this one from the Watford four-piece – consider me done.
Listen to: Here We Go / Damn Nation / Far Q (sorry)