Rebecca & Fiona’s debut album, I Love You, Man, was as perfect as any pop debut could be. Astounding from start to finish, really. Compared to their new sophomore effort, Beauty is Pain, I Love You, Man is a bright and shiny sky with a double rainbow. And I suppose it always was, the ladies’ lyrics back then being mostly light-hearted, fun stuff. The thing about Beauty is Pain is that they’ve grown up during recent years, surely learning some of life and love’s brutal lessons along the way. And so Beauty is Pain has some very dark moments, although there are plenty of shout-along anthems as well.
The album begins with “Saga,” an luscious but haunting intro track with flourishes of somewhat eerie syths appearing over especially deep beats. Normally, I’m not a big fan of intro tracks, but this one is quite nice, setting the tone for what follows perfectly with its mix of beauty and melancholy. “This is our saga / Made for you,” the girls sing and it gets you thinking about all of the hard work and soul-searching that goes into making a proper album like this. It also establishes straight away that this is an album to experience from start to finish, not just listening to the singles on your playlists. It might not be a concept album per se, but it does tell stories and they do seem to inter-connect on some level, which is just one of the things that makes it such a magical record.
The first single from the album, “Candy Love,” follows and it starts off sounding somewhat ominous, but once it reaches the chorus it proves to be rather infectious. You might even find yourself singing along to the chorus before you’re done listening to it for the first time. The combination of retro drum machine style beats and glorious, almost howling synths is spell-binding, calling to mind Empire of the Sun and, to a lesser degree, The Pet Shop Boys. “Candy love, it’s your life / You can do whatever you like when I’m gone,” they sing. It seems Candy is destined to “overdose downtown” and there’s nothing more that the girls can do for her. If that’s not melancholic then I don’t know what is.
“Holler,” the second single, follows and it’s far more upbeat with a fantastic disco-style bass guitar line setting the mood along with the up-tempo, heart-racing beats. “Holler at me boy / Don’t be Shy / Before I was even born you were mine,” begins the lively chorus. Now, that’s some kind of obsessive devotion. But it makes for a perfect pop song that’s ripe for your summer 2014 playlists. Although, as I said above, the album is an experience unto itself, so I hope you’ll listen to the whole record *before* you go doing the playlist thing.
“Stockholm” follows and proves to be a delicious mid-tempo, electro-pop number that tells the tale of the girls moving to Stockholm. Initially, it seems they don’t think they’ll make it there, but eventually they sing, “We will be happy after all.” While chorus is certainly upbeat, this is one of those rare pop songs where the verses are more enjoyable. Lyrically, it could be a country song with the way they tell a story here, meaning that you should really pay attention to the lyrics, which are easily some of the best they’ve penned thus far.
Another track with engrossing lyrics is “Machine,” during which the two would seem to be singing about being a computer from the point of view of a computer. “I’m a dreamer, we are the same,” they sing and that seems to sum up the message of the song, so to speak. (Later, there’s a wildly upbeat cut actually called “Dreams.”) Production-wise, this one has lots of burbling beats, clapping percussion and shimmering synth.
As the album continues, the songs just reinforce the idea that the tracks here are meant to fit together perfectly, like pieces of the same super-sized puzzle. But this puzzle uses a lot of different colors: “Letters” is a perfect slice of ’90’s house with its drum ‘n’ bass style percussion. “Cold Heart” featuring Duvchi has all sorts of rattling percussion going on in the background over its laser-like synth and a Glitch Mob-ish vibe. “Clara” sounds futuristic if not alien with its pulsating bass and snappy beats over which the precious vocals rise and fall. “Burning Empire” finds them singing about a new empire, which they’re inviting you to join, its anthemic, piano-filled chorus rather hypnotic.
Ultimately, you’ve got an exquisitely-produced album that more than lives up to its title, constantly meshing beautiful sounds and warm vocals with downtrodden, pain-informed lyrics and sounds that are more mesmerizing than club-ready. It probably isn’t punchy — or sonorous enough — to please the EDM crowd but if you’re even remotely into electro-pop then you must at least stream it. But, remember, listen to the whole album, not just the singles. You will be rewarded.