On their third album, Love Is Dead, Glasgow synth-pop trio Chvrches offers sweeping sentiments about heartache and resiliency, emphasizing the emotional vertigo of relationships teetering on the brink of collapse. The brooding duet “My Enemy,” which pairs singer Lauren Mayberry’s airy soprano with guest vocalist Matt Berninger’s sonorous baritone, delves into the feeling that an erstwhile partner has wasted one’s time. Lamenting misspent time also features heavily on “Graffiti,” but that track’s maudlin sentimentality, embellished with towering synth crescendos, highlights Love Is Dead’s recurring flaw: the use of platitudes no more complex or insightful than what can be hastily scribbled in a teenager’s notebook.
The album eschews the incisive introspection and figurative lyricism that defined Chvrches’s early work. On 2013’s The Bones of What You Believe, Mayberry delivered such acerbic threats as “I’ll be a thorn in your side, ’til you die” and “I am gonna break you down/To tiny, tiny parts,” but she’s prone to trite expressions of perseverance and optimism here: “You better give up on giving up,” she sings on the cloying “Deliverance.”
Chvrches has made it no secret that they’re aiming for the commercial mainstream, an approach Mayberry has described as “more aggressively pop—there’s no doing things in half measures.” But that creative philosophy yields an album with no middle ground, no room for subtlety, as the band’s songwriting takes a reductive approach that places human emotion in binary all-or-nothing categories of love or hate, light or dark, never or forever.
Mayberry’s voice is merely used as another sonic texture throughout Love Is Dead, as she often repeats simple words and phrases ad nauseam. Lyrically, “Get Out” offers little more than a relentless repetition of the titular phrase and a well-worn kaleidoscope metaphor. Whether it’s a hook that consists almost solely of Mayberry stringing together lengthy iterations of the words “never” and “ever” on “Never Say Die,” the swirling titular vocals loops on “Forever,” or the incessant phrase “looking away” on “Graves,” the band attempts to mine profundity through excessive repetition alone.
The handful of songs produced by the band themselves—“My Enemy,” the brooding new wave track “God’s Plan,” and the gentle ballad “Really Gone”—stand out in their deviation from the glossy, monolithic tracks helmed by producer Greg Kurstin. “God’s Plan,” which features Martin Doherty on lead vocals and hints at toxic possessiveness, is composed of a churning, syncopated beat that harkens back to the band’s past songs, while “Really Gone” pairs a minimalist synth-wave pulse with Mayberry’s tender crooning about the fortitude necessary to leave a bad relationship in order to save oneself. These rare reminders of Chvrches’s capacity for poignancy and nuance only make Love Is Dead’s overarching push toward generic melodrama in the name of accessibility seem all the more vacuous.