On Broken Bells’ latest, just good is disappointing

Published 2:01 pm Friday, February 14, 2014

For some bands, their greatest strength is their greatest weakness.

That’s the case with Broken Bells’ “After the Disco,” the second studio album from the supergroup featuring James Mercer of The Shins and producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse.

The two laid the groundwork for something special with a solid self-titled debut in 2010 and the promising “Meyrin Fields” EP. But just when the two seemed primed to reach the next level, Burton and Mercer’s greatest strength proved a weakness, too: consistency.

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“After the Disco” opens with a thrill of potential, as it takes off with a rush of danceable rock on “Perfect World,” “After the Disco” and “Holding On for Life.” The album features a beat-driven pop that floats somewhere between heavy 1970s and 1980s inspirations. The music shines with addicting backup vocals, especially on “Holding On for Life,” which sounds like a nod to the Bee Gees.

Just when Burton and Mercer are banging on the ceiling to reach greatness, the album stays good — and just good.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun and dynamic album. It’s got variety: “Leave it Alone,” “Lazy Wonderland” and “The Angel and the Fool” add a slower, more emotional feel; “Medicine” infuses the album’s second-half with upbeat life; and “No Matter What You’re Told” ups the bass and rock sensibilities. But, it never reach the next level.

Broken Bells is a band with experience. Mercer has recorded four studio albums with The Shins, and Danger Mouse has an impressive producing resume featuring acts like U2, the Black Keys, the Gorillaz, Beck, Gnarls Barkley, MF Doom, Norah Jones and more.

Both men know how to craft a solid album, and neither have a major failure on their record. But consistency often doesn’t have much room for risk-taking.

With such a vast pedigree and a great single in “Holding On For Life,” Broken Bells raised expectations, but couldn’t quite meet them. The album is as good as it can be while just being good. But with a vast track record and high expectations, good can be disappointing.