So: Slow Club have 'grown up'. They've 'matured'. That's what every review is keen to tell you about Paradise, the Sheffield twee-pop duo's second album. Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor have abandoned the liveliness and occasional frivolity of their earlier work in favour of an 'adult' focus upon slow, mournful, introspective ballads. There's something rather insidious about this narrative, which frequently surrounds bands' later albums: a dismissal of exuberance and experimentation as juvenile traits which a group has to overcome before they can achieve their real artistic goal: relentless, samey wallowing in the emotional pain and existential isolation which (the story suggests) characterise our adult lives. So: Slow Club have stopped having fun and started trying to tell us something about the human condition. Hooray!
Or not. Here's a counterpoint. For all its fleeting moments of beauty and occasional concessions to catchiness, Paradise is an unexceptional, sometimes dull album; and it's also a juvenile album, because emotional introspection is just as juvenile as projecting an innocent happiness. Or rather, neither is inherently juvenile or mature. 'Penny Lane' was not a childish step on Paul McCartney's artistic journey towards making more 'mature' music in Wings. The schizophrenic fabulousness apparent on Sgt. Pepper's and The White Album was not something The Beatles had to transcend in order to start making grown-up music.
This is not to suggest that anybody's going to start comparing Slow Club's music to that of The Beatles any time soon. Certainly not on the basis of Paradise, which contains nearly as much bad as good. The bad? Well, there's 'Two Cousins', in which Taylor's sad-faced, innocuously pretty vocal is systematically undermined and overwhelmed by a screeching, high-pitched keyboard sound. There's a scarcity of memorable choruses, which is a problem because the band are writing verse-chorus-verse pop songs; there's the sense that their slightly amateurish air - manifested, for example, in the ramshackle percussion - undermines the gravitas they reach for on their ballads.
There are enjoyable moments here too: 'If We're Alive' and 'Where I'm Waking' remember to pack the choruses, and 'Hackney Marsh', in particular, shows that Taylor's vocals can touch the heart. Anyone with a taste for expertly constructed harmonies will find something to love. Paradise is not a bad album, but it isn't an artistic breakthrough for the duo, who have enough talent to produce something considerably more interesting. Maybe next time.