Photo Credit: Rita Zimmerman
Clean Bandit is an electro pop trio from England, of worldwide acclaim. The band’s classical sophistications coexist with dance rhythms and soaring vocals. The 2018 LP, What Is Love?, emerges with an iridescent melody and Zara Larsson’s voice, in the re-released track, “Symphony”, a homage to the group’s musical virtuosity. Many of their songs include cello and violin, ditching samples for real recorded instrumentation, adding value to the exceptional production of their tracks.
Sonically enriched and satisfying to the ear, the album starts fresh and enthralling, building up to mountain size, with a call for love. “I just wanna be part of your symphony // Will you hold me tight and not let go?” The lyrics hold a true virtue, that of innocence and singularity. In the day and age of modern love, those in love will harken toward these lyrics, finding only openness and a fresh emotional perspective.
Clean Bandit evinces their musical depth whenever in taste, their influences ranging from pure electro to dance pop to Latin to reggae to hip hop. “Baby” starts off with an 808 buzzing and a Latin rhythm smoothly flowing into a sea of acoustic guitars and pleading, haunting vocals, “Find me in another place and time // If only, if only you were mine // but I’m already someone else’s baby.” The rest of the track is a dance with lost illusions and lovesick realizations, a crescendo of falsetto vocals and Spanish lyrical counterpoint.
“Solo”, features Demi Lovato. Vocal sampling in full effect, the producers took aim and got this one right. This track makes for an uplifting electro dance party, perfect for a pre-gaming playlist to start out the night. “Rockabye” plays upon the 1765 English lullaby, “Rock-a-by-baby” while Sean Paul throws in his trademark MC’ing. This track sets a lower, steadier tone, a story of a mother’s sacrifices and giving her unconditional love.
Ellie Goulding takes on the fifth track with “Mama”, caressing listeners with her expressive ostinatos (those “hola” rolling vocal licks). Although solid, this track takes the album to a subdued place, far from its initial excitement, echoed lyrically with, “Oh mama, hola, hola, hola, don’t know what this is // What do I do now, do now, do now // do with all of this?” There seems to be an lost epiphany at this point, leading into a piano based ballad, “Should’ve Known Better”, which lulls along, resultantly unmemorable.
“Out At Night”, keeps it fresh and leads to a much-needed “Last Goodbye”, with its reggae influence and good-vibes-inducing upstroke rhythm. With the album reinvigorated and alive once more, the listener is engaged pleadingly, “Baby don’t walk away, don’t wanna remember you this way // Come on and spend the night and let’s say our last goodbye.” Up next, the mid-album hit, “We Were Just Kids”, keeps the message of the album in tune, which is mainly centered on love and youth. The fleeting nature of both and the exuberance of the combination. The album then settles in with a darker side. “Nowhere”, states, “You let my life go to waste // You’re not gonna change”, and later, “Yea, I wish I could go back to the start // And tell myself that I hold the cards // I don’t know.” The end of the song is sprung into a key change that sets up for the next track. “I Miss You”, is a piano/strings ballad that effortlessly turns electro pop and gracefully swoons forward, lyrically unfolding a story of distant and past love.
“In Us I Believe” and “24 Hours” are two tracks you could take or leave. They lack the melodic and lyrical draw of the previous tracks. Fortunately the album picks up again. “Playboy Style” is a late album hit featuring Charli XCX. The subdued and laidback vibe permeates the soundscape. This would be a track to bump to while on a road trip for smooth sailing or at a party to set the mood. The drink-in-hand production continues with the next track with, “Beautiful”, a song wavering in sub bass and symphonic elements, with a darker appeal but still somewhat mediocre in comparison. The final song of the album, “Tears”, featuring Louisa Johnson, comes back with a vengeance. Her vocals cut the air, crescendoing to a break beat electro dance dream, slowing down again, and then turning symphonic and empowering, stating, “These tears will get me through // And I’ll get over you.”
In hindsight, What Is Love? had a coherent and blatantly headstrong vibe. If you are looking for new and original melodies, this album may not hold many gems or golden nuggets of musicality, but it does serve as a refreshing experience for anyone in the mood to dance or chill to symphonic electro pop. This album would be recommended to anyone with a thirst for mainstream.