Anticipated ambitious return falls short
Following a greatly needed three-year hiatus, California-based pop-rock band Grouplove is back with their much anticipated fourth studio album, Healer. For a group nearly pigeon-holed as the band that makes songs featured in the film adaptations of John Green novels, this most recent release is surprisingly personal and more vulnerable than the Grouplove the world fell in love with.
While the state of the world, specifically the United States, has steadily been in decline over the past few years, Grouplove as an entity has been through its own fair share of hardship. From vocalist and keyboardist Hannah Hooper’s major brain surgery to replacing their founding drummer, Healer was bound to be a culmination of all these struggles, personal and political.
From the opening track, “Deleter,” it is evident Grouplove isn’t here to mess around. Kicking off with a piano riff and frontman Christian Zucconi literally counting listeners in, it is immediately clear this record is going to be euphoric, youthful and just plain fun. The song, which is all about removing negativity, perfectly encompasses Grouplove’s signature summery sound. Complete with the most uplifting lyric switch, going from “It turns out you’re only a deleter,” to, “It turns out I’ve always been my healer,” in the final chorus, “Deleter” is an insanely strong opener and it feels like a good omen for the rest of the album.
The follow up “Inside Out” is equally as impressive. Playing with synths and electronic work, all the while still holding onto that nostalgic and youthful aesthetic, the song is incredibly sweet. Add in bandmates/spouses Hooper and Zucconi singing lines like “You got the only thing goin’/ that I know’s worth waitin’ for” together and suddenly the song is making hearts everywhere melt.
The problem lies in that not every song on Healer is to the caliber of the first two. Although the intention is thoughtful, “Expectations” is repetitive to a point that’s almost painful while “Ahead of Myself” is simply forgettable. That being said, Grouplove’s inherent ability to write catchy hooks and melodic lines saves the lackluster songs. Even if they aren’t impressive or groundbreaking like the earliest and final tracks on the album, they are by no means bad.
Perhaps the greatest miss and the most disappointing song is “Promises.” Written after hearing protestors along the American-Mexican border outside their studio, this track was meant to be a political statement and reflection on the shortcomings of the American government. With quirky lyricism, such as, “I got news for you, Uncle Sam/ I got no use for you,” Grouplove manages to fuse their free-spirited nature with a strong political stance. Unfortunately, the song falls flat thanks to unchallenging and stagnant instrumentation. The lost potential of “Promises” is crushing, however, it is still a noteworthy attempt for the band.
As with the front of Healer, some of the backend tracks return to the impressive quality of work. “Hail to the Queen” kicks off with a striking bassline that loops through the whole song and manages to capture Grouplove’s signature sound that fans old and new likely spent all of Healer searching for. Similarly, “Burial” emerges as another stand-out for its drastic tempo changes, strong lyricism and Zucconi’s passionate shout-singing. With lines like, “this is all I got left/ my middle finger all night long/ I’m a little off it/ but nothin’ like a lost cause,” it’s impossible for the sentimentality to fail to resonate.
Released at such a pertinent moment in time, Grouplove’s Healer manages to hang on to hope at a time where the future is entirely uncertain. Despite the misses, this album transcends musicality in order to spread a message that desperately needs to be heard at this exact moment. Straight from “Hail to the Queen,” Healer is all about letting listeners know: “don’t need to be stressed out or left out/ we’re with you.”