On “Traumatized,” a song deep into Los Angeles pop-rock outfit Grouplove’s third album, singer Christian Zucconi is swollen with pride for his woman, who has “a baby in her blouse.” “She is my only one true love in the world!” he snarls amid surging guitars. It’s a rare moment of tangible emotion for a band who have perfected big, benign, radio-friendly rock songs alongside similarly innocuous bands like Young the Giant, Foster the People and Of Monsters and Men.
Album opener “Welcome to Your Life” seems almost desperately like a cap-and-gown single that sighs, coos and exhales its way into Jeff Lynne’s dream-pop orbit. Lyrics to grand anthems like “Heart of Mine” and the trite “Good Morning” are limp in comparison to the band’s meticulous rock (sample lyric: “The night is young, the rest is up to you”). “Standing in the Sun” flies too close to Asher Roth’s sun with its nearly identical melody to 2009 frat-rap wank “I Love College.”
But the wins on Big Mess eclipse its weaker parts. The LP’s second half – songs like “Spinning,” “Don’t Stop Making It Happen,” “Hollywood” – sees the five-piece mixing their wholesome quirkiness with edgier hooks and Sleigh Bells-esque percussion. On garage synth-pop jam “Cannonball,” the juxtaposition of Hannah Hooper’s featherlight voice with Zucconi’s darker, dangling poetry is full of dashboard-banging magic. In the same vein, the album’s second track “Do You Love Someone” is a lung-blasting joy. Until the band fully embraces their ping-pong guitars and surly one-liners (“I wish I saw myself the way you see me now”), Grouplove will likely remain a singles band rather than the new-R.E.M. their ambition hints at.