After using a tried but true indie pop sound for their first two albums, Australian band Oh Mercy instead decided to shift into a funkier, more bass driven sound for their 2012 album Deep Heat. It was a shift that fit both the writing and vocal style of head honcho Alexander Gow, and was one that could easily have led to more quality albums afterwards. Instead, When We Talk About Love signals another major shift in sound, and it might have led to something even better.
When We Talk About Love sees a return to focusing on guitars, rather than the heavy bass of Deep Heat, and there’s a mellow alternative rock vibe to the album mixed in with an indie pop flair that leaves it feeling more mature than the previous albums. The defining feature of this album’s sound is its abundance of string instruments, which appear throughout the album. The strings mixed with the general tone of the album give it an almost romantic vibe, fitting the album’s title perfectly.
The album’s lead single Sandy acts as a strong indicator of the album’s style. Despite being one of only three uptempo songs on the album, it backs up the drums and guitar riffs with light strings to create a nostalgic feeling while simultaneously filling the song out, giving it an element that takes it to another level. It’s especially strong on songs like the guitar and strings ballad Lady Eucalyptus and the strings and piano track Iron Cross, neither of which feature drums but carry themselves entirely on their few accompanying instruments thanks to Gow’s lyricism and restrained vocals.
The album’s strongest moment comes near the end, with Can’t You Hear My Body (Calling Out To You). It’s constantly moving between verses that contain nothing but strings, piano and heavily distorted guitars in the distance, and choruses that bring the prominent guitar and drums back. This eventually leads into an extended ending guided by another buzzing guitar that’s slowly grown more prominent throughout the song, with Gow’s now distant vocals repeating in the background. While it’s got the same mid-tempo, nostalgic feeling that most of the album has, its use of instruments tied in with the structure of the song make it the best execution of the album’s concept.
The only thing that could have made the album better would be more uptempo songs. With Sandy, Let Him Be and All Roads Lead To You being the main uptempo tracks on the album, the rest being mid-tempo does leave one wishing there was something else to break up the pace of the album. The songs that are present are placed well in the tracklist and mesh appropriately with the slower songs, but one or two more would have alleviated the problem.
While Oh Mercy’s previous effort was strong both concept and quality-wise, this feels like the most substantial of their efforts. The production is simple but enhanced in the right ways with strings and other little elements featured in songs like Can’t You Hear My Body (Calling Out To You), and it all captures the album’s title and lyrics perfectly with that intimate nostalgia that gives the album a whole new level of engagement. The quality of Oh Mercy’s music has reached a new high point with When We Talk About Love.