As album titles come, ‘Love Is Dead’ is a hefty one. Weighty with fiery pessimism, like a Jenny Holzer mantra etched angrily into a slab of stone, it’s a starting point that doesn’t leave a lot of space for hope. Or so you’d think, anyway. In the case of CHVRCHES’ third album, the statement comes with a silent, but enormous, question mark. Leaving behind their native Glasgow, jetting off Stateside to record with pop powerhouse Greg Kurstin (their first time working with an outside producer), and turning the personal towards the political, the band have instead made a record that investigates whether love is worth saving again in these dark political times.
You sense that, approaching ‘Love Is Dead,’ CHVRCHES were also keen for a shake-up. Their debut album ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ was a flawless blend of super-shiny synth-pop and grittier foundations. Refreshing the indie landscape, an endless procession of lesser imitators followed in CHVRCHES’ wake. Their stadium-baying successor came from a similar sonic world – but if the debut was a small-town art cinema, ‘Every Open Eye’ was the gigantic IMAX 3D experience. To play an even larger version of their calling-card for a third time running would’ve been complacent, so it’s a relief to hear CHVRCHES finding a different voice and a saltier edge on ‘Love Is Dead’.
Lauren Mayberry – who has long mastered the art of colourfully abstract lyrics born from her own personal perspective – has never been more explicit or outward-looking than on ‘Graves’. “Leaving bodies in stairwells and washing up on the shore,” she sings atop deceptively chipper synths and crisp snares, clearly alluding to last year’s Grenfell Tower tragedy and the European refugee crisis. “Oh baby, you can look away while they’re dancing on our graves, but I will stop at nothing,” goes the chorus.
Elsewhere ‘Love Is Dead’ takes a subtler tact, but the shift in perspective holds fast. While ‘Get Out’ and ‘Forever’ seem like falling-out-of-love songs at first glance, they’re also vessels for a wider exploration of taking ownership of your actions – kind or cruel – and moving forward in a more loving way. “I will always think I’m right, but I always regret the night I told you I would hate you ‘til forever,” Mayberry sings on ‘Forever’, admitting guilt and resolve in a single sentence. In these times, it would be surprising to find the band looking inward, and ‘Love Is Dead’ manages to balance hopeful, utopian pop with a darker, gloomier undercurrent. Love may not be dead after all, but if you ask CHVRCHES, the onus is on all of us to try and keep it alive.