Bono to Brandon Flowers (before Sam’s Town): “Spare us the interesting second album.”
Well, the Magic Numbers have succeeded on that front. Those the Brokes traffics in the same generally sunny disposition and cheery rock of the band’s self-titled 2005 debut. Brokes’ propulsive first single, “Take a Chance,” is a natural offshoot of the first album’s “Love Me Like You” (here I restrain my critic’s desire to point out exactly how much so and in what ways; briefly, everything minus the hand-claps). Opener “This Is a Song” mimics the pace and killer refrain of previous opener “Mornings Eleven,” and “Undecided” stacks three vocal harmonies for an eerily similar chorus to “Don’t Give Up This Fight.” “Running Out” is a mix of all the tactics the band employs: distorted and warm guitar, intricate and interlocking vocal harmonies, bass-driven melodies and slightly acidic lyrics belying the sweetness of the way it all sounds. The first group of songs was great, now all we’re looking for is continuity. Not better music — music that is still great.
But comparison is not the point, remember? The new straight-ahead melodic-rock tunes are at times gorgeously crafted (“This Is a Song,” especially), and if what we’re looking for is continuity, then the band (comprising two brother-sister sets) has done just fine.
But, although nobody is calling for that “interesting” second album, there is something to be said when the debut album still remains the stronger collection. “Take a Chance” is a fantastic song: concise, direct, a perfect encapsulation of what makes the Magic Numbers so startlingly refreshing. But this stands out as the centerpiece that Those the Brokes should have focused itself around; instead, many of the new songs (“Running Out”), strive for the immediacy of their predecessors but fall short.
The faults on Brokes are also evident in the ballads and mid-tempo songs, which may be divisive topics for Numbers fans. “I See You, You See Me” from the debut is as good as pop-rock balladry gets, with guitarist/singer Romeo Stodart, bassist Michele Stodart and keyboardist/singer Angela Gannon honing their harmonies to a crystalline blend. But nothing on Brokes tops it. “Take Me or Leave Me” approaches it with delicate minimalist backing, but it feels thin. The nine-piece orchestra of “Boy” adds a sweeping touch, but it feels unnecessary and comes perilously close to dragging the song into golden-oldies territory.
With a band this confident, any dead weight (“You Never Had It,” “Slow Down (The Way It Goes),” the AM radio tackiness of “Keep It in the Pocket”) is brought into clear view by the reflection of what works so well. It’s not a matter of abandoning the slower tracks and only writing up-tempo songs; it’s about recognizing their strengths and making sure every “ooh” and “ahh” is accounted for. It’s about continuity. We don’t want a different band; we want a band equally as strong. With Those the Brokes, I’m not sure that’s what we’re getting.