Showcasing a real gift for note-perfect pop hooks and a deliciously warped POV, 2007’s extraordinary Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge rightfully should have been a breakthrough for the Pierces. That it wasn’t led sisters Catherine and Allison Pierce to make a bald-faced bid for mass appeal by commissioning Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman, who knows a thing or two about broad commercial success, to produce their follow-up, You & I.
Barryman slathers the Pierces’ robust melodies and intricately layered vocal harmonies in a slick studio polish that sounds perfectly tailored for adult-pop radio. From the reverb-heavy lead single “You’ll Be Mine” and anthemic, ‘60s-inspired “Glorious” to the sultry “Close My Eyes,” Berryman’s production strikes an effective balance between a MOR approach that emphasizes the songs’ hooks without distraction and more distinctive styles that bring a rounded sense of character to some of the tracks. Since safe, radio-friendly aesthetics are still having a “moment,” that decision makes sense from a commercial standpoint. You & I is a terrific sounding album: There’s simply no faulting the construction of songs like “Love You More” and “The Good Samaritan.” The album is every bit as sharp as its predecessor.
But in making such an open stab at mainstream acceptance, the Pierces drop most of their quirk and sense of mischief. Gone are the songs about putting hexes on ex-boyfriends or about being so enamored that the whole world would explode. In their place, “Drag You Down,” with its opening verses that caution against drinking too much, is a fairly literal-minded ode to moderation, while “It Will Not Be Forgotten” is an effectively melancholic breakup song, but lacks any novel imagery or clever turns of phrase. That’s a shame, since the Pierces have proven they’re capable of spinning a genuinely interesting, off-kilter narrative. Fortunately, while You & I loses some of the distinctive details of its predecessor, the duo pulls off “conventional” just as well as they do twisted.