The Big Pink

A Brief History of Love

(4AD; 2009)

By David M. Goldstein | 10 December 2009

Not really sure what the Big Pink was thinking with that name. In this environment, giving yourselves a moniker inspired by the Band strongly suggests that your outfit is another furry and Americana-obsessed Fleet Foxes-come lately, something which the duo of Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell most certainly are not. Instead, they’re two twenty-something British dudes who apparently, like this critic, think that the stadium-sized Brit-pop Class of 1997 represented the apex of Western Civilization. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. If you spent September of 1997 trying to convince your freshman dorm that the Verve’s “Space and Time” was a piece of art on par with, say, Beethoven’s Fifth, then A Brief History of Love is the Kate Radley to your Richard Ashcroft. (Though Jason Pierce fans will like it too.)

And judging from the significantly “meh” responses to History from other CMG-staffers, I’m not sure its possible to fully appreciate (or like, even) the Big Pink without having already harbored a late ’90s British obsession. Especially because, removed from the music, Furze and Cordell seem obnoxious, always photo shoot ready in black leather and using their album/single covers as an outlet for arty softcore porn. But they clearly take the genre they’re attempting to emulate very seriously; while most folks’ biggest gripe with the Big Pink is that History is derivative, a statement with which I don’t think the band would disagree, it’s derivative in the same way that Death in Vegas’s underappreciated Scorpio Rising (2002) was: running the latter half of ’90s Brit-pop through a shoegaze woodchipper to get strident, stadium-ready anthems that are extremely well-executed if sometimes uncomfortably familiar. And a band could do a lot worse than liberally crib from 1997; Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen, We’re Floating in Space, Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point and _OK Computer_were all released that year, all in the first week of July no less. Read that last sentence again.

Said week was probably a pivotal point in the Big Pink’s then teenage lives, as well as two months later when Urban Hymns dropped. The needle protruding from the vein balladry of “Love in Vain” isn’t so much inspired by the Verve as it is just karaoke, but Robbie Furze nails the Ashcroft’s nasal self-loathing to such great effect that it works as an eerie tribute. “Vain”‘s an emotional 180 from preceding “Dominos,” where moaning over unrequited love is replaced by a latently misogynist celebration of Tiger Woods-style swordsmanship that melds the rock with the Big Beat. It’s soon flirting dangerously close to MGMT territory, but all is forgiven once an insanely catchy chorus hook descends, describing how all of Furze’s girls similarly, eventually “fall like Domi-no-oh-ohs!!!!”

Touchstones from the ’90s are simply everywhere: “Tonight” is an appealing slice of baggy fuzz-rock that would have made an excellent late album addition to Blur’s self-titled record (1997); “At War With the Sun” contains some gorgeous Stone Roses jangle alongside a shoegaze churn. The requisite ballad where a sleepy male lead vocalist duets with a waif-ish chanteuse? The title track’s got your back. Regrettably, the lamer aspects of Britpop are also briefly touched upon; the opening one-two of “Crystal Visions” and “Too Young For Love” relies too heavily on a faceless beats n’ hazy ambience formula that certainly did post-Roses Ian Brown no favors.

And then there was “Velvet.” Had this song been released at, say, any point between 1996 or 1998, it would have made the Big Pink international superstars, equally fit to headline the Glastonbury Festival or Hollywood Bowl. In 2009, it’s still an inspiringly awesome British rock anthem, a slow building, vaguely motorik swirl with lyrics straining for profundity that Oasis could probably appreciate (e.g. “She’s the only one / Lost the best I had / Found her in a dream / Waiting for me”). But all mud-slinging rock-festival hell breaks loose with an enormous mid-song blow-out, as if God himself is stomping on the world’s largest fuzz pedal. Such is the quality of “Velvet” that the rest of A Brief History of Love can’t help but suffer in comparison.

In a recent interview, Yo La Tengo frontman Ira Kaplan was accused of ripping off the introduction to the Temptations classic “Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” for his band’s recent “If it’s True.” In response, Kaplan simply shrugged his shoulders and stated he didn’t think it was a big deal if a song reminds you of another one. While A Brief History of Love isn’t quite capable of recapturing the rush upon hearing “Bittersweet Symphony” or “This is Music” for the first time, the Big Pink’s reverence towards those songs and their era and everything they represented is extremely well executed. And greatly appreciated.