By Lysa Legros
Two Door Cinema Club, the Northern Irish alternative rock band featuring Alex Trimble (lead vocalist, rhythm guitar, beats, synths), Sam Halliday (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Kevin Baird (bass, synths, backing vocals) has returned from a three-year hiatus with their newest album “Keep on Smiling.”
The LP is an uplifting encouragement to pursue your passions even if it means forfeiting what’s safe and comfortable. The album’s mix of synths, blazing guitars, funky baselines, vocal distortions, dance-rock and funk-pop with psychedelic undertones, makes for both easy and fun listening. Each song on the album flows well together both sonically and narratively. Throughout its 12 tracks, the album tells a loose story about an individual who has become disillusioned with their current position in life and desires to try something new. Although the album encourages its listeners to follow their passions, it also acknowledges the obstacles that can hinder their pursuits, such as obligations and self-doubt.
“Keep on Smiling” is unique because it is not straightforwardly optimistic. Instead, it illustrates how difficult it is to be positive by placing its cheerful, idealistic songs in between pessimistic, cynical and sarcastic tracks. Although the album’s lead single, “Wonderful Life,” urges its listener to “take back your wonderful life” because it's “now or never,” the album’s second single, “Lucky,” articulates the thoughts of a forlorn speaker who is unable to keep up in a rapidly changing world. In its chorus, Trimble croons, “We’re running out of luck/I can feel the change/holding onto little pieces of what remains.” While “Wonderful Life” is about reclaiming life, “Lucky” asks if it's even possible.
Songs like “Everybody’s Cool” and “Millionaire” present jaded perspectives on success.
“Everybody’s Cool” mocks how individuals create a façade of “coolness” by lying to others and to themselves. Everyone is treated to a “five-star view” as they put on a charade of composure and charm. At the same time, they avoid their real problems by repeating cliché platitudes like “where there’s a will, there’s a way” and “nobody’s perfect, persistence is worth it.” As the song’s bridge repeats that “Everybody’s cool, full and incomplete,” the lyrics emphasize how unfulfilling the mask of coolness truly is. “Everybody’s Cool” pokes at the front of coolness to find the numbness it hides. In “Millionaire,” success is only achieved by “climbing the ladder of sin” and “climbing over you.” Just as “Keep on Smiling” inspires its audience to be pertinacious, it also urges its listeners to reevaluate what success means to them and how they measure it.
“Keep on Smiling” is a nuanced gaze into the bright side. The album’s speaker wants to leave his pessimism behind and become a more optimistic person. But as he says in “Blue Light,” he can’t escape the “thoughts that are tunneling out.” Instead, he learns to balance his pragmatism with his hope. The album closes on “Disappearer,” a track that stands out from the rest of the album. The dreamy quality that characterizes much of the album is absent from this track. The synths, vocoder and rhythm guitar are all present, but they are darker and more stripped back than they were on previous tracks. Its lyrics paint an ephemeral, somewhat abstruse image: “the sun don't reach the valley/If you want, it could shine right through.” Happiness won’t always come to us, but even in the valley of despair, if you’re searching for it, you can catch glimpses of it. The only thing we can do is “keep smiling, all the clowns do.”
A grin and a grimace, Two Door Cinema Club’s “Keep on Smiling” is a feel-good album with teeth. Both inspiring and cynical, the album manages to be motivational without seeming insincere.