And now back to our regularly scheduled presentation on Radio Friendly.
Welcome back to After the Hype — a weekly series where I listen to an album after the hype dies down and give my general thoughts, sometimes a little whinge.
This week’s album is Gang of Youth’s 2017 magnum opus Go Farther In Lightness. And I use the phrase magnum opus intentionally because that is pretty much what every single publication has spewed onto social media since its release. But I’ll get more into that later.
I remember reviewing the first Gang of Youth’s album. I gave it a 5/10, probably the lowest score anyone really gave it, that I know of at least. And I gave it that score because it was good, it wasn’t bad and it wasn’t great. It was a mediocre album with some solid instrumentals that mimicked great rock albums of the past. The problem was people got too invested in the album’s message and themes and fans would angrily snuff off any remarks that the album wasn’t anything but great. And that has pretty much been the ethos behind Gang of Youths ever since that album came out.
So, Go Farther In Lightness is released in 2017 to critical acclaim all across the board. It was plugged relentlessly on triple j, both social media and on air, it won numerous ARIA awards, most notably the Album of the Year. But to be honest, the ARIAs are much like the Grammys where the nominations miss out on some key players from the year. In saying that, it’s hard to escape the constant praise and continual hype that Gang of Youths have achieved with this album. Whether I think it’s deserving is another question.
The album begins with Fear and Trembling and upon listening for the first time I rolled my eyes. ‘Here we go again, another Gang of Youths track’. But forcing myself to listen to it a few more times I was pleasantly surprised. I’m still not a fan of the Billy Joel-esque piano ballad that opens the track, and with singer David Le’aupepe’s lazy mumble vocals, but it builds to an epic rock ballad with some fantastic instrumentals thanks to the rest of The Youths. It’s a great opener for an album, and it does set the bar high.
What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out quickly follows, another track that rubbed me the wrong way the first time I heard it on the radio. But goddamn, another fucking epic track. I love the drumbeat against the staccato guitar line. It builds tension but feels uplifting and almost heroic at the same time. It’s probably my favourite Gang of Youths song to be honest. It’s a solid rock tune.
Atlas Drowned is a hard-hitting rock song that, while still epic, doesn’t reach the heights of the first two tracks. And this is where I find the album starts to dip. Two songs in. Maybe it just comes down to the structure of the record, but the album starts with a fucking bang, one of the best bangs I’ve heard I might add, but the songs that follow dip in quality and tone. Keep Me in the Open is slow and boring, and Le’aupepe’s vocal performance comes off as lazy, like he’s doing a National impersonation. Don’t Let Your Spirit Wane is another boring tune that doesn’t build until the last two minutes, and it’s a seven-and-a-half-minute track. I feel that the track, and much of the album, is an excuse for Le’aupepe to glorify himself for three-quarters of the track, and the band can finally show some sort of life in the last quarter. That’s not what I want, nor look for, when I am listening to the band who won the Best Group award at the ARIAs.
I do like the string sections that appear through the album, especially in Archilles Come Down. Persevere sounds like another National song and I don’t like that. The Heart Is a Muscle is uplifting, but it shines thanks to the string section, again. The album closer Say Yes to Life just feels cheesy. Like I’m being forced to feel the emotion that Le’aupepe and Gang want me to feel. It’s uncomfortable. It’s the kind of song that you’d expect to hear on some sort of happy uplifting movie you watch only once and say, “yeah, that was nice.” Like the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. And while we are on the topic of forced emotions, look at these song titles. It’s as if the band are saying, ‘alright so this is the emotion you need to feel going into the song for us to get the desired effect out of you.’ It’s cheap.
Gang of Youths are at their best when they are playing their epic rock anthems, not when they try to do their best to be the Australian version of the National. In saying that, Go Farther In Lightness is a long fucking album. It’s an hour and seventeen minutes long Spotify tells me. Jesus Christ, who sits down and listens to this album front to back? None of what Gang of Youths is doing is anything new to the genre either. If anything, they are mimicking who they take their influence of. And I don’t want to mention those bands, because it seems as if no one can talk about this band without mentioning who they take inspiration from. Which is not always a good sign. Take Rolling Stone’s description for example:
“It [Go Farther In Lightness] is a staggeringly cohesive multi-generational musical piñata: cross-pollinating Springsteen’s sweeping Americana, the National’s piercing truths and the sweaty insistence of LCD Soundsystem, with splashes of Arcade Fire, War on Drugs and U2 swirling amid its emotional tornado.”
Seriously, get fucked. You’ve just mentioned big name bands and said nothing on the music itself.
So I fall back into what I said at the start. People reckon this album is the fucking bees knees, the kipper’s knickers, the dog’s balls if you will, and that’s the problem. People say Le’aupepe’s lyrics are raw and romantic, but it’s not as if he’s the first person in rock to throw some emotion into his lyrics: see Meatloaf, Aerosmith, Guns N Roses, Bruce Springsteen — Jesus Christ I’ve just done a Rolling Stone. Nonetheless, I can’t help but get a feeling that the raw and romantic image is just what the band want to project. Le’aupepe knows he’s Australia’s biggest heartthrob. And I reckon it plays a fair part into his persona now as well; it’s unauthentic in this album as where at least the first album had some sort of authenticity as they wore their influences on their sleeve. Go Farther In Lightness is more of the same, yet people will happily bend over for the lead singer as if he’s the new calling to Australian rock. I’d love to listen to an album from the rest of the members in the band playing for a different lyricist. Because, for me, it’s not Gang of Youths, this is David Le’aupepe and the Gang of Youths. Much like it’s Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Look I know I’ve been tough but the hype this band generates has really eaten at my nerves. Their music isn’t bad, it’s just been put on a pedestal by youth radio stations because they know a photo of the lead singer on an article will push clicks, then push ticket sales to their festivals, and boost their listenership.
I’m sorry Gang of Youths, but I guess I’ll be the first to tell you Go Father In Lightness wasn’t worth the hype.