Broken Bells disappoint on ‘After the Disco’

By Jackson Maxwell

Courtesy of Wonker/Flickr
Courtesy of Wonker/Flickr

Supergroups in rock or any genre tend to follow the same path. Endlessly hyped up and promising, their actual music almost always ends up being far less than the sum of its creative parts. For some reason, the mixture of musicians who on their own have accomplished so much fails to gel in practice. Broken Bells, despite being a sort of indie supergroup, are no exception to this rule.

Comprised of super-producer Danger Mouse and James Mercer, the man behind The Shins, the duo produced a shiny, ultra-clean strain of indie dance-pop. Their second album together, “After the Disco,” is a dance album devoid of anything you’ll actually want to dance to. Its grooves are flat, and so are its songs.

The dull edges of “After the Disco,” released on Feb. 4, are fairly shocking. Considering Brian Burton (Danger Mouse)’s talent for creating unforgettable beats, and the songwriting skill Mercer has so frequently flaunted with the Shins, “After the Disco” is startlingly inconsequential. But, songs like “Holding On for Life” and the title track, both singles, simply have no bite. The unremarkable bass lines that propel both tracks, coupled with Mercer’s falsetto in the chorus of “Holding On for Life” make the two tracks sound like Bee Gees album filler. Other tracks attempt to be more grand and orchestral. Such is the case with the interminable “Leave It Alone,” an overambitious song that clocks in at five and a half minutes but feels three times longer.

Two more mid-tempo electronic snoozers come before the album’s first somewhat interesting song, “The Lazy Wonderland.” Its more human feel lets Mercer’s voice and character shine through for the first time, more than halfway through the album. Burton’s production and arrangements, which have been effective for many other artists, makes this record feel cold, lifeless and mechanical. Up-tempo songs like “Medicine” and “The Angel and the Fool” try in vain to spice things up a bit towards the album’s conclusion, solidifying “After the Disco” as an all-around disappointment.

One would think that, considering both of these musicians’ past accomplishments, the duo could come up with something at least a bit more exciting than this. But “After the Disco” suffers from the same issues that plagued Beck’s last album, “Modern Guilt,” another record that Burton produced. It’s an album that sounds uninspired and unambitious, like it was made on cruise control. But Beck was a talented enough songwriter to at least salvage a little greatness out of that record, something Mercer is unable to accomplish here.  Both Mercer and Burton have proven consistently that they can make much more dynamic and engaging music than the 11 songs they present on “After the Disco.”

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at [email protected]