Last year, halfway around the world, The Naked and Famous unleashed, with the purest of intentions, Passive Me, Aggressive You in their homeland of New Zealand, and on its journey to America, something was lost. Singers and centers Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers seemed to have absorbed every album from the glory days of synth-pop and post-punk. From the Human League to Muse to MGMT, they wear these influences over their own sound like an oversized motley coat. It’s unfortunate that too often they sound like fools impersonating dated musical relevance. But for all its clowning, the album does its job to entertain with novelty-sized hooks, glossy production, and sweeping emotional climaxes.
This, more than most albums, is a collection of individually wrapped candies for a younger generation. Most songs are epic unfoldings of some hackneyed theme: night, sleep, dreams, apocalypse, sunrise, girls, boys. Unspecific determiners both lyrical and musical replace unique textures, undermining the idea that each single song is memorable in and of itself. This is sadly this album’s very noticeable bruise. Tracks like catchy opener “All of This” would benefit from its simplistic and addictive structure if the band had a more indelible signature.
Elsewhere on the album, the band suffers from the same lovable sickness. Another probable hit, “Young Blood”, is trimmed with all the right ornaments but feels hollow and rehashed, like MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” went through the dryer. The simulacra don’t end there, either. “The Sun” is very much the shadow of “Everything in its Right Place”, and “A Wolf in Greek’s Clothing” sounds ripped right off of Muse’s Origin of Symmetry. The hasty assimilation of influences might be just a coincidence, but the album’s salad bowl mentality becomes distracting. It’s an unoffensive reflection of a certain pulse of indie, and a requisite for anyone who has been living in a broom closet for the past five years.
If this seems like a laundry list of reasons to never listen to this album, you’re only partially right. The Naked and Famous don’t strive for something good, they strive for something grand, and in that respect the album is especially effective. Wouldn’t it be grand to cruise along in your convertible on a warm night and sing along to the standout closer “Girls Like You” with your attractive friends? To hear the Passion Pit doppelgÃ¤nger “Punching in a Dream” in a Mazda commercial? To have the emotional power ballad “No Way” underscore the climax of the next Twilight movie? Every note of electro pop on this album begs to be coupled with some hyper-real situation that exists only in dreams or in Hollywood (arguably one in the same). Passive Me, Aggressive You successfully creates a gilded dreamscape filled with surreal possibilities and a certain distorted reality that accompanies dreams: “It was like that Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, but it wasn’t really a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song.” It’s a welcome escape, but it doesn’t have the shape and form of something worth escaping to and remains at best a quality xerox of pop music today.