The second best album of 2004 was also the least likely to succeed. It’s essentially a lo-fi electronic pop record that sounds like it came from a geek’s bedroom. It’s simple, effective, but most of all…affecting. Songs of aching hearts and thwarted love sit snugly alongside each other. This is a Cut Copy that isn’t quite yet the glossy pop behemoth they would later evolve into across the years, a band whose music would soundtrack DRAMATIC moments in every episode of Home & Away. This Cut Copy is Dan Whitford finding himself, his sound, and his band bit by bit. Bright Like Neon Love is a beautiful and fragile record. But not once does it forget to make you dance or hum or sing. These songs brim over with heart and substance.
I bought Bright Like Neon Love in Glasgow branch of Avalanche. I was going through my electroclash phase (I’m still there) that would soon give way into Nu-Rave (I was a fan even if the genre was a complete invention of NME to sell magazines and new bands). This album came after the noughties indie boom that brought us The Strokes, White Stropes, Franz Ferdinand, and The Hives. The cover art of Bright Like Neon Love promised glamour and style, exactly what Alex Kapranos, Miss Kittin, and The Hacker had given me with their debut albums.
This period of time was really good for new music. I was discovering artists every week. Patrick Wolf’s Lycanthropy was in my CD player and Girls Aloud were pushing the boundaries of girl group pop music, cooking up the most exciting sounds and songs in Kent with their production team Xenomania. Mylo was hip, his album Destroy Rock & Roll a statement of intent. Annie, the former lead singer of her own punk band, released the best album of 2004 in the form of Anniemal. Everything was blurring together. The alternative, the mainstream, pop, rock, indie, punk. Nothing was off-limits.
So how did Bright Like Neon Love hold itself against the competition?
Well, it has charm in abundance. ‘Saturdays’ is pure perfect indie-pop. Dreamy, swimming in hope, awash with synths and handclaps – well, I couldn’t stop listening to it. There’s a second part to Saturdays, an instrumental for the most part, it complements rather than takes away from the original. Some lyricists write smart lyrics that make you think. Dan Whitford of Cut Copy is not one of them. On Bright Like Neon Love, the words are simple. They’re about capturing the small moments of love or the uncertainty that having a crush surely brings. That’s why one of my favourite lyrics on the record can be found on Saturdays. It goes There is a feeling in me and I don’t know why/Is there a feeling in you that you can’t deny? I love lyrics that tell me something about the songwriter. Great albums allow you to think you know the artist. That Was Just A Dream is pop melancholy done right, without any self-pity. This is not as easy as it seems, I suppose, given how so many other artists get it wrong. Between us, I’m thinking about All By Myself. God, I hate that song. Go to the library. Go to the bingo. Go to The Gourmet Burger Bar. Just go somewhere. Don’t be all by yourself. And if you are, don’t sing about it. Or at least add a beat. Use some samplers. Drum machines. It worked for Dan Whitford.
Then there’s Time Stands Still with a lo-fi heartbeat of tiny tinny drums and synths. Dan Whitford’s voice is altered by the power of technology, but he never loses his humanity, no matter how he compresses or equalises his vocals. That’s why I love his voice so much. Some might say plain, I’d say plaintive. Other songs on the album (such as Zap Zap and The Twilight) sound like they were demoed in a bedroom. Mostly though, there’s a clear debt to New Order and Kraftwerk. Despite that, this is still an album with a distinct personality. Better still, it never gets boring. Even now, years and years later, it still works for me in a way other albums of that era haven’t quite managed.
If you like your electronic pop with mood and feeling and hooks aplenty, give Bright Like Neon Love a chance. I did back in 2004 and it’s still with me after all these years.