Best Coast’s 2010 record Crazy For You was an album that triumphed through it’s simplicity. Unashamedly pop in nature, the songs were sincere and catchy odes to love, life and sunshine. A beautiful record and one of the best released in 2010.
So two years on it’s follow-up time, and Best Coast are back with The Only Place, an album which suffers from a fairly typical case of “second record syndrome”. That’s not to say it’s a bad record: it’s not. It’s a good record – even a very good record. It just suffers a little from the very thing that made their first record so great: its simplicity.
Let’s start from the beginning. Opener and title track “The Only Place” (free download here) is top notch: a poppy ode to the band’s home state of California over jangly guitars and a melody to die for. A perfect first single: just similar enough to the last record to appeal to the existing fans and just different enough to hint at something new. Track two “Why I Cry” is in a similar vein: Crazy For You‘s overdriven guitars and reverb soaked vocals replaced with largely clean guitars and vocals but with a nice upbeat tempo and great melody.
So far so good. But it’s at track three, “Last Year”, where the album hits its first rough patch. A down-tempo number and an obvious attempt to diversify, it doesn’t really have enough melodic strength to withstand the removal of the band’s usual upbeat tempo. Singer Bethany Cosentino has never been known for her lyrics and her lack of lyrical prowess becomes painfully obvious on many of the slower numbers on the album.
Things do pick up again, however. “My Life” is a great pop tune in a similar vein to the two openers. “Do You Love Me Like You Used To” is a slightly slower but equally wonderful number that showcases Costentino’s great voice and ear for melody. And just because “Last Year” didn’t really work doesn’t mean the band can’t do slow numbers as a whole, as “How They Want Me To Be” shows, despite an ever-so-trite lyric. “Better Girl” and “Let’s Go Home” are also standouts. Best Coast’s biggest asset has always been Bethany’s vocals and the best songs on here are the ones that really give it room to fly.
That’s the thing with The Only Place, though. There’s nothing actually “bad” on here, in fact it contains many of the band’s best songs to date. Their desire to diversify is completely understandable, but like many bands famous for one type of sound (the Ramones, say, or Oasis) it doesn’t always work when they try to stretch their songwriting beyond their comfort zone.
It’s the slower numbers that suffer the most: “No One Like You” and “Up All Night”, for example, are the type of songs you’ll probably skip after the first couple of listens. On their best songs Bethany’s lack of lyrical depth is masked behind the peppy beat and melodies (hell, it’s even part of their charm), but without those elements the songs really do need the lyrics to step up a bit.
You could probably make an argument that I’m missing the point by wishing for added depth on something as refreshingly straight forward as a Best Coast record, and that’s a fair point. But it’s also true that if the band wants to diversify, then they just need that extra something, and a kick in the lyrical department on the slower numbers. Because they’re great at what they do, but if they want to do something else, then they need to adapt.
That’s not to say I don’t like The Only Place, I actually like it a lot. It’ll probably even make it to best of the year lists. It’s just not the sure fire classic album that I know the band has in them. But there’s more than enough here to keep me happy for now. Just keep an eye on those lyrics, OK Bethany?