Clean Bandit: What Is Love? review – underwhelming chart catnip


Clean Bandit began with an undeniable aura of nerdiness. They met at Cambridge, where two members of the original lineup led a string quartet; their first hit was called Mozart’s House and merged the composer’s work with a squelchy dance beat. However, the studious trio soon garnered a reputation for being boffins of a different variety: as the Top 10 hits and online streams racked up (to date: nine and 4bn, respectively), it became clear they had masterminded a failsafe formula for churning out chart catnip.

In fact, these pop poindexters are so adept at producing standalone hits that releasing an album feels like a formality. This second album has already spawned five singles, including three No 1s. Still, hearing these songs side by side does helpfully expose some of Clean Bandit’s methods. While their 2014 debut, New Eyes, was built around pop-house and string-section flourishes, What Is Love? draws opportunistically on more recent chart trends, namely Latin pop and diluted dancehall. It also sees the band continue their teamwork-based approach to music-making. Each track sports at least one starry guest, be it Demi Lovato or Craig David – something that happens to be a reliable indicator of chart success (collaborations make up around one-third of hit songs).

Identifying tangible reasons behind Clean Bandit’s ascent is necessary because their songs aren’t impressive enough to account for their mind-blowing stats. Melodies are frequently forced and characterless, and many songs possess an almost computer-generated quality: either riddled with counterintuitive combinations (Sean Paul singing about the sacrifices of single mothers on mega-hit Rockabye) or resembling other people’s work (the unbearably twee We Were Just Kids is steeped in Ed Sheeran-style nostalgia; the lyrics of Out at Night resemble a poor man’s Nice for What). Clearly, the Clean Bandit method still work when it comes to gargantuan sales. But by relying on individual hits rather than a cohesive artistic vision, their place in the pop firmament may prove more tenuous than it appears.


Rachel Aroesti

The GuardianTramp

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