Sydneysiders Papa vs. Pretty have definitely come a long way since their conception inside the mind of wide-eyed dreamer Thomas Rawle in 2006 when he was a mere 15 years old. They’ve been decorated with critical acclaim, toured here, there and everywhere and taken airwaves by storm with their constantly evolving brand of tight, memorable pop-rock. This month they deliver album number two White Deer Park.
Returning to the comfortable confines of Sydney’s Studio 301 (with addition recording over in the states), it’s partly a step away from 2011’s United In Isolation but whether this is a good thing or not is somewhat debatable. Once you get past a pretty pointless intro track of siren-song vocals and indecipherable spoken samples, the record begins with Give Me a Reason Not To, a dynamic Britpop-meets-Jeff-Buckley affair that definitely sets the tone. Kicking things up a notch on Suburban Joan of Arc, they boys give us another serve of the cathartic rock they’re known for.
The odd choice of a first single My Life Is Yours we first heard back in September last year. It’s a slow-burning torch ballad with everything but the kitchen sink but unfortunately lacks a hook as strong as anything on their previous efforts. Thankfully this was rectified later in the album by second single Smother, which has that triumphant, fist-pumping sing-along vibe that the first half of the record is missing. The same goes for Whatever Works, with its energetic ‘70s guitar riffing and slick harmonies.
While I’m Still Young starts by paying homage to the delicate folk aesthetic that seems to be the “it” thing at the moment before growing into another balls-out rock anthem to good effect. Roses After Dark is an earnest piano and string ballad that could easily fall under the Idol/Disney category if not for their undeniable aura of cool. It segues into the no-holds-barred closer Dementia Praecox, which builds and swells with all the flashy-prog ambition of a young Freddie Mercury or Geddy Lee.
While there’s no denying that this is an immensely talented group of guys with a lot of ideas and a lot of things to say musically, it feels a little overblown at times. There’s a clear ‘90s-alternative influence on the record so it’s strange to think that the members of this band hadn’t even started school when bands like Radiohead and Something For Kate (two of the more fitting comparisons for this album) were in their heyday. It’s a bold move placing the bulk of the catchier, more radio-friendly songs towards the middle and end of the record but if you’re enough of a fan to see it through, your patience is richly rewarded.