Album Review: JR JR, JR JR

JR JR, a Detroit-based electronic-indie-pop duo formerly known as Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, released a self-titled album this past friday.

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Having heard their previous album and enjoyed it (it had all the elements of a great indie-pop album albeit a little rough around the edges) I had high hopes for a tight, clean album: the sum of all that they are capable, and for the first twenty seconds of the opening track “As Time Goes” the beat promises that. It begins with the kind of forceful, addictive beat that summer driving playlists are made of. When the vocals begin, though, they reveal a lackluster melody. But when that beat surges again you can almost, for a moment, pretend the whole song is this electric. The single off the album “Gone” is probably the album’s best song. The chorus is energetic and the beat and synth create a satisfying dance track. With the first two songs offering up some solid instrumental parts, I looked forward to the album having well-composed energetic and addictive indie pop throughout.

Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t. It becomes immediately obvious with the next track, “Caroline” that the beginning of the album was not representative. The song includes mediocre lyrics and annoying and repetitive chorus that doesn’t have a melody good enough to excuse that.

The lyrics fall flat throughout the album, with the worst offender being the song “For My Brother” and while it’s not necessarily bad to have a devil-may-care songwriting style, JR JR lack the charm and melodic proficiency to pull it off. Every track is bubbly indie pop, and while none of them are heinously bad or offensive, they just lack soul. They’re bland. It feels like pandering, each track a little more hollow than the last, like someone stretching a couple of bars of a song idea into three-and-a-half minutes (save one or two exceptions, like “In My Mind (Summertime)”. They feel churned out rather than written, like they tried to write what a song sounds like rather than writing a piece of music. This doesn’t mean they weren’t agonized over, but for whatever time and attention they received, it seems to me that it is way below their potential. For example, “Phillip the Engineer” begins well, lackadaisical with enticing synth, and then shifts tonally and musically at the chorus to more somber and slow, and then in the verse again is back to lighter and sunnier. It feels like two completely different and separately interesting songs, one a lilting, sobering ballad, the other a careless sort of story-song, spliced together to an unsatisfying end. Both parts are catchy and would make great parts of a song, just not together. In every song there is a piece: a line, a hook, a beat, a bar, that really could have been something great but somehow it never gets there. I really wish it had. I really wanted to like this album. To quote one of their new songs: “I don’t wanna be the one to say it’s broken, but, somebody’s gotta tell it like it is.”

All in all it’s disappointing, falls way below their potential, and provides very little in the way of songs worth listening to more than once. What I can recommend is the dance-happy single “Gone,” the light, catchy and well-paced “In My Mind (Summertime)” and the first track, “As Time Goes.”

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