Following the release of their sophomore album, 2013’s Beacon, it seemed that Bangor/Donaghdee’s own Two Door Cinema Club were a band on the brink. Years of touring solidly, as well as the pressure of delivering after two critically acclaimed and hugely popular albums, had left fractures within the band deep enough to lead to an abrupt hiatus. In an attempt to vanquish their collective demons, the band went their separate ways: singer Alex Trimble turned to photography and moved to Portland, haven of America’s alternative darlings; bassist Kevin Day found a fiancée in LA; and guitarist Sam Halliday relocated to London. For 18 months, the world heard very little from Two Door.
But the boys are back on form, finally, with their new album Gameshow. From the off, they take Beacon’s adept songwriting and Tourist History’s killer hooks, then drench them in neo-New Romance and something of an identity crisis. ‘Are We Ready (Wreck)’ is an absolute belter of an opener, maybe the closest thing to ‘classic’ Two Door on the album; swimming in falsetto and dreamy 80s half-romance, ‘Bad Decisions’ follows, juxtaposing bold pop melodies with lyrics questioning the inescapable “generation information” that surrounds us all. Next track ‘Ordinary’ is amazing, no question. With a kaleidoscopic intro underscored by killer percussion reminiscent of recent Arcade Fire, as well as one hell of a bassline, it’s very much symbolic of Two Door’s departure from indie, and raises the bar for the songs still to come.
Titular track ‘Gameshow’ is a real highlight, especially for long-time fans; with its furious guitars and Day’s driving, distorted, heaven-sent bass, it deviates from the more relaxed pop of the previous two tracks. An anxious, introspective beast of a song, Trimble’s voice almost shrieks the chorus; listeners are sucked into his preoccupation with image, identity and lies, with the lyrics declaring: “I’m a Lynchian dream/I’m made of plasticine/I’m a Pinnochio, broken nose, let me go.” This is Two Door at their angstiest – listeners like me, whose years of teenage suffering were soundtracked by TDCC’s early material, will love it especially.
But the nostalgic pop influences only strengthen; guitar-driven tracks like ‘Are We Ready (Wreck)’ and ‘Gameshow’ seem like anomalies. The sultry groove of ‘Lavender’ blossoms into a dazzling chorus littered with hand-claps, saccharine synths, and guitars worthy of Justin Timberlake’s classic ‘Like I Love You’. TDCC never lose their edge, though – halfway through, the track breaks down into a storm of jagged synth, and Trimble remains lamenting about his place in the world, worried that “gravity is losing its hold…I can feel it fading.” Pop maestros they may now be, but they haven’t lost their indie sensibilities, nor the gloomier retrospection that saturated Beacon.
Probably the album’s weakest track, follower ‘Invincible’ is sickeningly sentimental, enough so that it should be soundtracking the emotional climax of a John Hughes film. There’s too much of a focus on Trimble’s vocals, and the guitar that hits after the three-minute-mark is an indulgent throwback to 1985, but the boys quickly redeem themselves with ‘Good Morning’s’ minor-key funk, which gives way to a glorious chorus. It’s funky as hell, with Day’s bass back at its best – another of the album’s gems.
After this point, though, the formula gets slightly dull. ‘Surgery’ opens with a Kavinsky-lite synth hook, warped vocals, and odd effects; it takes too long to develop into its real groove, but the guitar solo/instrumental is ridiculously good. Closer ‘Je Viens De La’, contains nothing particularly distinctive, apart from the lush synth compressions in its momentary breakdown. It doesn’t so much close the album as end abruptly: compared to Beacon’s final track, it’s a letdown, but fits in well with the album’s general feel.
Gameshow is a shameless nugget of indie-pop gold, with the falsetto turned up to 11. Make no mistake, this is no Tourist History or Beacon – Two Door’s sound has changed quite dramatically since we last got to grips with one of their LPs – and as a fan since my youth, I’m probably blinded by pure loyalty when I say I love the new album. It isn’t what I expected: it contains the bones of the TDCC we know and love, but the band have grown older, slightly more cynical, and maybe too obsessed with the synth. It’d be wrong to say I don’t miss their debut’s youthful guitars and their later bass and drum-driven tracks, but whilst Two Door Cinema Club have experimented and deviated from their glorious indie roots, their return is nothing but welcome—and what a return it is.
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