In 2019, Two Door Cinema Club released an album that challenged the world’s idea of who they were. ‘False Alarm’ might have contained some of the indie bangers the Northern Irish trio are well known for, but it also saw them taking new risks and leaping into more experimental territory. On its follow-up, ‘Keep On Smiling’, the band continue with that approach, mixing ‘80s pop hooks with intriguing and interesting new ideas.
Their fifth album is almost bookended by instrumentals, ‘Messenger AD’ and ‘Messenger HD’ (the latter is succeeded by ‘Disappearer’, a song that not only spoils the tracklist’s symmetry but plods along, adding little to the record as a whole). ‘…AD’ opens things with an ominous spiral through drones and dark synths worthy of the Stranger Things score – a deceptive introduction to an album that is largely bright and vibrant. ‘…HD’, meanwhile, is breezier and less tightly wound, perhaps a direct result of the fun that happens in between.
‘Won’t Do Nothing’ marries robotic vocal effects with a wall of syncopated electro noise, its buzzing, offbeat layers forming a barrage of sound. ‘Little Piggy’ strips things back a little, taking a squelchier, slinkier approach as frontman Alex Trimble struts through the delivery of his lines. ‘Wonderful Life’, meanwhile, offers a jittery, bouncy piece of grandiose ‘80s alt-pop, its rushing chorus the closest ‘Keep On Smiling’ comes to capturing the rousing anthemics the trio’s first albums contained.
Not everything works out quite as well, though. ‘High’ is a blown out, weird mix of sultry slow jam and rock ballad, with some pretty cringy lyrics to boot. “Sorry not sorry,” Trimble purrs after a wailed verse. “Apology, apology.”
Much has been made in pre-release interviews about the positive spirit of ‘Keep On Smiling’, but there’s still room in the record for subtle swipes at society. On the dark disco of ‘Millionaire’, the band put themselves in the shoes of greedy fat cats who “get higher climbing over you” and declare there to be “nothing I won’t do” to get to the top of the social and financial hierarchy. The gleaming single ‘Lucky’ boasts an urgent undercurrent as Trimble observes in spry falsetto: “We’re running out of luck / I can feel a change / Holding onto little pieces of what remains.”
If Two Door are to hold onto anything from ‘Keep On Smiling’, it should be the playful, curious moments that convey a sense of fun, even if that’s deceptive. When things get serious on this record, the band stumble and the smiles begin to slip.
Label: Lower Third/PIAS
Release date: September 2