It’s notoriously difficult to structure a pop album well. In the early days of pop music, record executives decided the most logical structure for an album was to “front-load” it, which means to place all the singles and best songs at the beginning of the album, and have the rest play out in declining order of quality. The assumption was that music fans were unlikely to listen to an album the entire way through, so by placing the singles at the beginning of an album, the listener is more likely to hear the best material.
This behaviour continued apiece throughout the CD and MP3 eras, with hugely successful albums like Hot Fuss and Walking on a Dream having notoriously dull back halves. However, the streaming industry has changed this practice somewhat. On Drake’s recent VIEWS, he buried all the singles in the second half of the album, so the listener has to sit through all 20 tracks to get to the catchiest song, thus ensuring the most streaming revenue. In contrast, Grouplove’s Big Mess is structured in a defiantly old fashioned way, opening with a ridiculously strong series of pop gems, but slowly descending into something much less inviting.
The opening tracks of Big Mess are legitimately phenomenal. Welcome to Your Life sounds like it should be the next big Katy Perry song, only with more heart as vocalists Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi dedicate the track to their child. It’s incredibly sappy, but the track is just so joyous that they get away with it. Do You Love Someone is equally catchy, displaying the group’s mastery over the dynamics between the verses and chorus. The shift into the main chorus hook is accompanied by an explosive burst of guitars, and the effect is intoxicating. Standing in the Sun isn’t quite as strong, but works as a solid imitation of rock bands like Powderfinger. Good Morning is another standout, with catchy “ooh” backing vocals. Hooper also provides vocals again on this track, and proves that the band are at their best when the vocal duties are shared.
Unfortunately after Spinning, the album falls apart somewhat. Spinning is a catchy track in of itself, but it’s noticeably slower than the preceding songs, and the album never quite recovers from it. Traumatized should be an energetic standout, but instead, due to its placement on the record, it’s just exhausting. Don’t Stop Making It Happen is fairly nondescript, with a chorus that blurs together with the tracks surrounding it. None of the tracks on the second half of the record really stand out, suggesting Grouplove didn’t trust their audience to maintain attention throughout the album’s runtime, which feels longer than its relatively short 11 tracks. Perhaps if the high points had been more interspersed with the other tracks (which are by no means bad, just boring in quick succession), the album would have felt more consistent, but as it stands, Big Mess lives up to its title.