Chvrches might not have felt like they needed a rebound from their third album, Love Is Dead. There are some signs that the Scottish trio knows they went down a blind alley, both in some stray comments here and there and in the fact that they engage in a little bit of a boomerang to old practices. After working with outside producers on their preceding effort — most notably Greg Kurstin, who presided over some of Adele’s biggest hits — the band has gone back to taking full control. Chvrches’ new album, Screen Violence, is entirely their own, written, conceived, performed, and produced by the band. When Chvrches shares the proverbial stage with about as notable a vistor as there can be for an esoteric pop group — the Cure’s Robert Smith brings swinging cool to his guest vocals on “How Not to Drown” — the band’s personality remains prime. The album is all the better for it.
It might be my own lukewarm feelings towards Love is Dead after being decidedly enamored with the band’s earlier work, butI feel like the album is full-scale reclamation of identity for Chvrches. On lead track “Asking for a Friend,” I swear lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s Scottish brogue even comes through a little more than it has before, as if some of veils are being cast to the ground. I tentatively offer the lyrics of “Final Girl” as Exhibit B to that argument: “And I wonder if I should’ve changed my accent/ Tried to make myself more attractive/ Only time will tell.” The song is built on the metaphor of the fabled horror movie heroine who is the last one standing after all the mayhem. If the band has their own misgivings about recent turns down dark, unpromising roads, then the storytelling construct fits. Might as well wear it.
Screen Violence has a shadow of overarching concept to it, but its truly most satisfying as a string of snazzy pop songs dropping off a conveyor belt only to spring around the workroom like super balls. “He Said She Said” is marked by firework bursts of pop grandeur, and “Lullabies” nestles in next to the Golden Hour experiments in glimmering, light-twang soul by Kasey Musgraves. “Good Girls” is simply a perfect Chvches song, reminiscent of previous peaks and yet slickly inventive and fresh.
Mayberry and her cohorts, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, make special music. It seems needlessly backhanded to assert that Screen Violence is a reminder of that fact. Instead, let’s call it one of many examples.