Life Is Perfect
[So Recordings/Silva Screen Records Ltd.]
In a way, it could be considered a brave move for four lads who previously experienced modest success with a former project to re-emerge with a new name and, more importantly, a revamped musical identity. However, that’s exactly what the quartet behind former Dublin pop-punk bank Home Star Runner have done, and it’s safe to say there won’t be much looking over their shoulders longingly at what’s come before.
Their first full length release under the new moniker Only Rivals is an even bigger justification of their slate-cleaning new start than last year’s Details EP. Where Home Star Runner’s output could lack depth and often felt juvenile, Only Rivals have upped their game on Life Is Perfect considerably with generally more mature, wider ranging, harder-hitting song writing, all the while gently testing the boundaries of the genre on which they cut their teeth.
The opening trio of tracks on Life Is Perfect do a great job of advertising this evolution. ‘Dive In’ serves as a rather dark and melancholy opener, and while nothing too extraordinary in itself, it marks the change of focus and attitude that personifies the album in pretty decisive fashion. Yet, even still, there’s a fragility and uncertainty evident in the opening lines here that belies the otherwise confident delivery of the album as a whole:
“I’m scared of what the passing years are turning me into
Eroded and weathered from the weight of the world
This holiday doesn’t feel like it used to
No longer young and innocent”
However, ‘Grudge’ kicks the album into gear as it enters more familiar musical territory, and the more expansive and varied instrumentation, coupled with the tighter production, really emphasise the band’s progress to date. ‘REPLACE // EXCHANGE’ is one of the bigger throwbacks to their former musical lives on Life Is Perfect, but again, it’s the finer details like the relatively cliché-free vocal melodies and more varied guitar playing that separate their current output from what’s come before.
Sadly though, Life Is Perfect is guilty of losing a bit of steam as it goes along. Tracks like ‘Sing’ and ‘Eventide’ are clearly intended to be anthemic and provide a counterpoint to some of the livelier songs, but the ‘big’ choruses tend to feel strangely and disappointingly lightweight, and unfortunately this is usually more to do with a lack of variety in the rhythm section, as opposed to the vocals themselves lacking bite. This is a real shame, because there are fleeting examples of some barnstorming, genre-breaking riffs scattered through the album, particularly the guitar and bass line that ‘Losing Touch’ in based on, and most notably the stunning closing sections to the very commendable album climax ‘There Are Rules’. Yet too often the songs settle into a comfort zone of arrhythmic power chord bases, particularly in the choruses, and too many of the tracks don’t hit the heights they should for this very reason.
However, despite its flaws there’s enough on Life Is Perfect to provoke a genuine sense of excitement over the future of Only Rivals. The span of time between Home Star Runner’s last appearance and Only Rivals’ first full-length release seems to have focussed the quartet to an extent that their two incarnations are surprisingly unique to one another. If they can replicate the rate of improvement between Home Star Runner’s Kill The Messenger and Life Is Perfect for their next offering, Only Rivals could turn out to be scarily good.