Take the bassist from The Smiths, the bassist from Joy Division, and the bassist from The Stone Roses/Primal Scream. Throw them into a debut LP project that is rumored to have taken around five years to finish. What do you expect to hear from it? Some crazy chugging? A lucid series of haunting melodies, stricken up in low tones and post-punk revelry? Maybe Squarepusher in triplicate? Freebass is an ambitious idea, and not just because of the members’ previous outlets, but because…well, the average consumer will think that three bass players would sound rather dull by themselves. While the group has more or less already imploded, they left behind this decent disc to remember them by.
Fret no more, ladies and gents; Peter Hook, Andy Rourke, and Gary Mounfield are here. There’s also a vibe here, and though it might not bring teary-eyed revisions of 24-Hour Party People, it really has its ears to the pulse of freshness, while not overshooting in favor of super-group expectations. Picture Eric Serra having started a band after a few too many Rush albums post-Moving Pictures (who am I kidding, you can never have too much Rush). Through something of a plateau, Freebass shines for reasons that do and do not surprise.
Rhythmically, the Geddy Lee styling of “Lady Violence”, the inspirational-yet-funky “World Won’t Wait”, and the beach feel of “Kill Switch, Pt. 141” should have clashed, but everything glides seamlessly on waves of synth and collective bass depth. Such is the cornerstone of It’s A Beautiful Life: the elements of sheer positivity that echo through from track one to 10, the elements that defy every member’s background (save a New Order pinch or two). There are obvious pieces of the ’80s New Wave puzzle thrown in, strengthening Freebass’ movement with percussion that swings between The Cure-meets-REM (“Not Too Late”, “The God Machine”) and exotic beats reminiscent of Massive Attack (“Stalingrad”).
Not so eye-opening would be the general vibe — a warm nostalgia that you cannot quite place until the music stops and you’ve begun digging through respective members’ repertoires. As mentioned above, New Order was most definitely a muse, if even in small amounts (Thank you, Mr. Hook). Admittedly, playing in ancestral bands like Joy Division or The Smiths, one cannot simply disregard their entire canon for the sake of artistic holy ground. That sort of thing happens with old dogs like David Gilmour who have only two settings: spacey and bluesy. Super-groups are difficult enough to tackle if the members take past work into account for reference, but the artists must then reinvent their sound to attract new audiences, try new tastes, experiment. This can be a difficult task if you’re aged like Rourke, Hook, and Mounfield, set in a particular pattern.
It’s A Beautiful Life is peaceful in places, writhing in others, and, in total, ranks as a must-have for fans of any act seen in this article. I speak fairly when I say that Freebass is very much a separate entity of itself, but does draw a ton of cues from its origins. If you don’t like it, go with a different Plan B, because Freebass’ version will just bore the uninitiated. On the other hand, I’m betting Tool’s bassist would have some good fun with this, and album closer “Plan B” does have some very Genesis-like drums toward its finish.