I came to Free Energy’s latest, Love Sign in a backward way — through many, many negative reviews. Different critics derided it for being too happy, too poppy, too power-poppy. They complained how often the words “tonight,” “the night,” “love,” and “dancing” came up. They come up in just about every song, but more on that momentarily. Other arguments verged on being angry that all these words were done without sarcasm or hipster irony. I think the statement that irked me most was, “Do we really need a Cheap Trick revival?”
Actually, yeah. We do. Music in general, rock in specific, and indie rock for the sake of categorizing this particular bucket has been pretty miserable for the past few years; joyless if not entirely soulless. The fun was happening in the pop scene, but it was doing so with distancing synths and its own version of self deprecating cynicism. It speaks in code quite often. The kind of bald-faced “red is red, blue is blue” matter-of-factness that was once a part of mainstream rock, which we now compartmentalize as power-pop almost derogatorily, has been sorely missed. There was never anything wrong with Cheap Trick asking “Hello there, ladies and gent; ya ready to rock?” or The Knack pleading, “Let me out, come and get me out, baby.” To insist there ever was is to be needlessly bitchy for the pleasure of having something miserable to be about, and little else.
Love Sign is blatant, unrepentant and forthright with the band’s aims and goals. Let’s mingle punchy guitar lines, crack those drums, crush on the cute girls, and dance all night because tomorrow we’ll be too jaded to bother. I will admit, however, that the band needs to adapt a little bit and recognize the value of tonalities. For instance, the one-two openers “Electric Fever” and “Girls Want Rock” provide exactly the kind of starter you want for your Get Psyched mixtape, but are made more potent by the third, very pretty pop ballad “Dance All Night.” The rest of the album doesn’t allow the band much wiggle room, and even though I find the songs from Love Sign to be addictive and enjoyable, as a whole it can wear you out. In this, I’ll agree with the critique that the group sounds like they only have a three-track mind, and I wish they could have changed up the vocabulary.
In chunks though, Free Energy bring back to the rock sound a sense of good time fun, and they’re not trying to save the world or pour their pain all over your best brand-new Converse Chucks. This is not music to get all existential about. It’s about tonight and what we’re about to do with it. If that is an intriguing prospect and you’ve been hoping for a more gutsy, less processed version of the top 20, this will likely do it for you nicely. If you cannot be bothered to listen to music that doesn’t reflect solipsistic seriousness with every well-turned phrase and frivolity is anathema to you, then you will want to run far away from Love Sign. It just wasn’t made for you to get your mope on.