Almost seven years after the release of Falling Out, Peter Bjorn and John return to the poppy garage rock sound that first garnered them attention from American audiences. Gimme Some, the band’s sixth studio album, signals an emphatic change of course for the Swedish trio, trading the sparse electronic experimentation of 2009’s Living Thing for more traditionally-oriented rock songs.
Gimme Some‘s first three songs are also some of its best. “Tomorrow Has To Wait” kicks off the proceedings with steady arena-rock drums, charming vocal harmonies, and a guitar line whose monotony is saved by the song’s brevity (it’s over in less than 3 minutes). “Dig A Little Deeper” approximates Vampire Weekend’s white-man Africana, complete with bongos, island-flavored “whoa-oh”s, and the sort of cheeky, academic lyrics that Ezra Koenig loves to write (“All art has been contemporary/ Dig a little deeper”). Some listeners find this style of island rock to be vaguely imperialistic — white artists co-opting traditionally black music — but if nothing else, it’s easy to appreciate tracks like “Dig A Little Deeper” for their surface-level catchiness and bouncy tempo.
“Second Chance” is an immediate standout, juxtaposing a memorable guitar riff and a happy cowbell (can cowbells ever be anything but happy?) with lyrics more mournful than celebratory: “The picture still hangs on the wall from back in the day when you had it all,” Peter Morén sings with the detached cynicism that marks so many of the band’s best songs (“Stay This Way,” “Amsterdam,” “Objects of My Affection”). It’s as catchy as “Young Folks,” no whistling required.
Unfortunately, the album peters out after the opening triad. “Eyes” regurgitates the tricks we just heard on “Dig A Little Deeper,” while “May Seem Macabre” sounds like a retread of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”-esque 90s “alternative” rock, more boring than challenging. “(Don’t Let Them) Cool Off” tries on a couple of hooks, but never finds one that fits properly — a problem that plagues a decent chunk of Gimme Some. Too many of these songs simply come and go, relying on repetition and volume instead of melodic inventiveness; the band can clearly write great pop hooks, but oftentimes on this album they come across as forced and forgettable.
That’s not to say that the album is unlistenable after the first 10 minutes; in fact, it saves two of its strongest songs for last. “Down Like Me” and “Lies” work for all the reasons tracks like “May Seem Macabre” fault: the songs are cathartic instead of redundant; the electric guitars jam with inspired fervor instead of resigned impotence; the choruses are memorable without having to be drilled into listeners’ heads. Unfortunately, these two tracks are followed by “I Know You Don’t Love Me” which features lyrics as repetitively trite as the melody and absolutely doesn’t need to be six minutes long. This album needed to end on a high note, but instead it closes with a slow burner that never develops into something greater than the sum of its hackneyed, college-radio-rock parts.
So what are we left with? An album that’s half awesome, half forgettable. On Gimme Some, Peter Bjorn and John abandon the experimental sound they’d been developing over the course of the last few years in favor of flavorless alt-rock that falls short of the bar set by Falling Out. Enjoy what this album has to offer while you can, because there isn’t much here that will compel you to come back for more once it’s over.
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