American Football’s long-awaited LP2 fails to differentiate itself from its acclaimed predecessor, Harry Sherrin writes
Released 21st October via Polyvinyl
American Football’s second release, a self-titled LP (LP2) follows a much cherished and also self-titled debut (LP1), an album that fostered obsession and pioneered a genre. Though LP1 was somewhat neglected initially, with the band breaking up shortly after its release, the following years saw the album surge in popularity. It incited not only a fearfully devoted cult following, but also an unfaltering barrage of gruelling, twee college-rock bands. The album’s popularity, though, was well founded, it somehow remained comforting and accessible, despite its asymmetric rhythms and irregular time signatures. Frontman Mike Kinsella’s unfeigned lyrics of angst and heartbreak grounded the album in a stirring warmth. With that debut, a blueprint in the genre of ‘emo’ was founded, one that’s since been tirelessly praised and mimicked, but never replicated.
It is in the context of LP1 becoming some sort of emo bible, then, that we must remember that reunions should often be approached with apprehension, lest they follow nearly two decades of hiatus. Thankfully, American Football’s live reunion in 2014 warranted no such apprehension — it was an undeniable triumph, giving the band’s long devoted fans a tempting offering of nostalgia after years of neglect. The live shows were so well received that the news of new material, landing in 2016, sparked fears that it might tarnish their now seemingly perfect legacy.
LP2 comes to the scene, then, with enormous shoes to fill. This is the album’s first and greatest obstacle — that it will be tirelessly compared to its predecessor. Tracks like ‘Give Me the Gun’ and ‘Everyone Is Dressed Up’ do genuinely succeed in replicating the first album’s magic, harking back to old favourites like ‘Stay Home’ and ‘Never Meant’. The album at times sounds barely distinguishable from that of its predecessor, with off-beat drum parts and tricky guitar work taking precedence once again. But this is as far as LP2 succeeds; it breaks no new ground and explores no new sounds.
There are instances, moreover, where the album does genuinely falter; the lyrics being a key example. Cheesy, self-deprecating lyrical clichés, prevalent throughout the album and indeed the genre, seem unconvincing when compared to LP1’s moving words of youth. Lines like “I need a drink or two or three or four, to spend any time alone with me anymore”, though serious in content, come across clunky and insincere. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that the words are coming from a man approaching forty that is most affecting. Herein lies the biggest problem of the album — if it had been released a year or two after the band’s debut, it would be an untarnishing development in the band’s career. But after seventeen years, the album stands as just another copy, admittedly a well-crafted one, of its tirelessly copied predecessor.