Say what you will about the laid-back demeanor of Sweden’s Shout Out Louds, but they know how to make a damn fine entrance. Their best song is still “The Comeback,” the first song from their first album. “1999,” the first track on their third album, Work, is also a delightful slice of post-2000 synth-rock, complete with more oohs and ahhs than you can hurl a Swedish meatball at (just like “Tonight I Have to Leave It,” the first song on 2007’s Our Ill Wills). Things might become too familiar on the rest of the album, but for those first three minutes of Work, it seems like it’s 2001 again. Rock is back, and it’s going to be all the rage, baby.
But of course, the kind of earnest synth-rock that Shout Out Louds travel in was killed dead around 2003 or so, so it’s not like they’re exactly world-conquerors here. But their commitment to the form is kind of charming. They still do sub-Cure rock like they’re on the verge of selling a million records if they could only write the perfect four-minute single about trying to get over a mistake of a relationship. The only difference between Work and any other Shout Out Louds release is in the liner notes, where producer Phil Ek, he of Shins/Band of Horses/Fleet Foxes fame, gets the nod. Because, you know, all that previous Shout Out Louds albums needed was even crisper guitar lines and more buttoning up. (They didn’t.)
Despite Shout Out Louds’ sameness, Work can be an intermittently splendid album with hooks and charm to spare. The hooting vocal solo on “Throwing Stones” is almost perfectly tailored for an a capella festival breakdown, while the chiming guitar lines of “Show Me Something New” shimmer like the sunset over a frozen lake in winter. Ek’s production is only really clear on lead single “Walls,” a track that benefits from his watery production of the rolling piano line that provides the song its thrust. The first memorable Shout Out Louds bass line pops up in “Play the Game,” a song that sounds like it was originally written by Billy Joel (which is, somehow, a good thing), and the band actually approach something resembling true sadness on album closer “Too Late, Too Slow,” a song with a clear Velvet Underground vibe.
As for the rest of the album, you already know what you’re getting: songs of dubious quality that try like hell to undo the momentum pushed forward by the highlights. Shout Out Louds have long been a case for the positives of going singles-only, and they probably keep that reputation here. But by a minor degree, Work is Shout Out Louds’ finest album-length statement. The hit-to-miss ratio here is better than one to one, which is a way better average than Our Ill Wills or Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. In that regard, I guess this is what progress sounds like, folks.