We Are Scientists, Barbara [2010]

Posted by Greg , Tuesday, August 3, 2010 11:52 AM

I was apprehensive when I heard that We Are Scientists were releasing a new album.  The band's 2006 major label debut, With Love and Squalor, was a blistering set of post-punk revival tunes about getting drunk and waking up on an unfamiliar floor, and one of my favorite records of 2006.  However, its follow-up, Brain Thrust Mastery, took a step away from this scene towards a more 80s/new wave revival vibe.  I suppose this makes sense, as despite being an American band, We Are Scientists have had more success in the UK, where they fit in nicely with British bands such as the Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park, and the Arctic Monkeys.

On the surface, lead singer Keith Murray hasn't changed his focus at all.  There is no shortage of inspiration from girls and drunken nights, and the bad decisions that arise from combining the two, but the lyrics also suggest a deeper reading.  Particularly, "Rules Don't Stop" may be less about youthful defiance (as the chorus "rules don't stop me / don't stop me" might suggest) and more a response to the band's critics:

Don't be alarmed, it's not the end of the world.
If we're breaking the rules, it's fine.
I disregard this kind of problem every time.

It's not as if it's gonna kill anyone.
If there's no victim then there's no crime.
Just draw another if you think we've crossed the line.

(Or maybe it's just about drugs...)

But Barbara has taught me a lesson, one which I probably should have learned by now: 30-second iTunes/Amazon clips can be misleading.  Despite my initial impressions that the album would be dominated by the synths prevalent on Brain Thrust Mastery, it actually manages to incorporate the energy of With Love and Squalor, as in "I Don't Bite" and "Nice Guys."

Part of the reason for that is a beefed-up rhythm section.  After the departure of drummer Michael Tapper, We Are Scientists employed session musician Garrett Ray for Brain Thrust Mastery.  For Barbara, they recruited former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows, and the change seems to have revitalized the band.  The mid-tempo tunes from Brain Thrust Mastery are mostly gone, and the band plays to its strengths: crafting bouncy, energetic rock songs.

While a part me still misses With Love and Squalor, it's not like that album has gone away, and the band has clearly gotten better in the intervening years.  Barbara is a hybrid of the band's last two albums, and as a result, just might have more staying power than anything they've released previously.  It'll be interesting to see where they go next.

Nice Guys:

Break it Up:

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