When the sisters HAIM burst on the scene with 2013’s dazzling debut, Days Are Gone, they released one of the most pristine and calculated debut albums of the last 20 years. It was a collection of 10 neatly constructed pop-rock tracks that mixed 70’s pop tones and 90’s R&B into their folk formula, as if Stevie Nicks had become a late addition to En Vogue. Days was accessible to the masses, yet flaunted musicianship and songwriting muscle to satisfy even the most pop-averse music snobs. The natural chemistry between Danielle, Alana and Este Haim helped sell their angelic harmonizations and nu-folk sound (granted, they’re sisters—but hey, count it). The total package was irrefutable.
On Something To Tell You, the result is roughly the same, yet the expectations are much higher. While the sisters’ second helping is very steady on its feet, it falls short of being the tour de force that was their debut. Rather, it’s largely predictable and safe, even for pop standards. (Damn the harming effects of conquering the world and raising the stakes. But that’s a good problem to have, I guess.)
The sisters, who grew up in a musically inclined family, never really step outside their wheelhouse on the new album. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Something To Tell You, it does feel like a retread, like the song has remained exactly the same, musically and thematically. They still croon about wanting to reclaim lost love (“Want You Back”) and then play the opposite role on “Right Now,” singing “And now you’re saying that you need me babe…Did you think this would be easy?” Further down the line, they’re all “Give me just a little of your love,” only to later lament about tears that have long dried up (“Kept Me Crying”). Are they breaking up? Making up? Who the fuck knows.
Yes, there are energetic claps and infectious hooks. Yes, those angelic voices are still a magical eargasm that is so uniquely them. But the tempos and song structures rarely diverge left of center. Their sound is still supported with the occasional sonic additive—a synth line here, an unconventional distortion there—but HAIM had already mastered this comfy space they’ve built for themselves. This second helping tastes like last night’s leftovers.
Regardless, there’s a lot to celebrate, too. “You Never Knew” is vintage Christine McVie in her Fleetwood Mac prime. The percussive bounce to “Kept Me Crying” makes it the perfect driving tune with it’s addictive hook, robotic vocal effects, and searing guitar solo that slices through and slays. Single “Want You Back” is perhaps the most well-rounded of the bunch with it’s upbeat chorus, handclaps and harmonies, the true HAIM trifecta. When the band starts touring, this track will be dynamite live (think drum solo, synchronized shimmying like in the video, and plenty of #bassface to go around).
Instead of catching a new wave, HAIM’s sophomore coasts to shore, which is fine for a second go, but won’t suffice for a third or fourth. I’d wager this won’t be a problem for their fans, though, who are compelled by the feels of their Fleetwood Mac-ian, west coast pop sounds. The band will likely remain the critical darlings they deserve to be because Something To Tell You is a good record, after all. It just would’ve been thrilling to see them take a wrecking ball to their writing process, demolish their wheelhouse and build anew upon their folky foundation. Grade: B
Directed by Jake Schreier New album ‘Something To Tell You’ available now: http://haim.lnk.to/stty/ Cinematography by Adam Newport-Berra Choreography by Ian Eastwood, Haim & Francis and the Lights Production Company: Park Pictures Executive Producers: Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Alex Fisch Line Producers: Michelle Currinder, Tracy Broaddus Follow HAIM: http://facebook.com/haimtheband http://twitter.com/haimtheband http://instagram.com/haimtheband http://haimtheband.com Music video by HAIM performing Want You Back.