For me, few albums were as antidotal to hipster malaise as the Boy Least Likely To’s 2005 debut The Best Party Ever. Boasting the best album cover (ever) and the best album title (ever!), the BLLT convinced us that things were going to be okay. And we needed it; our existential soundtrack was Funeral and theme song ”Hope There’s Someone”, so it didn’t hurt to have a few British twee-poppers drenched in optimism playing bubble-gum pop enter our world. Simple admissions sounded profound again: it sucks to be alone, it sucks to grow up. “They make me feel so happy,” my friend Spenser said of BLLT last week. Let’s call a spade a spade here: sometimes we needed to be uplifted, or to feel happy. And so in 2009, they’re back with The Law of the Playground which channels the same ideas as its predecessor; both in sound and sentiment.
“Saddle up/ saddle up/ get ready to go!” Irresistibly catchy, opener “Saddle Up” allows us to pick up almost exactly where Best Party Ever left off: knowing that there’s a “big scary world,” but knowing we have to face it anyway. What follows is an album dedicated to exuberant pop voicing life’s anxieties. Perhaps most familiar is the balance between singer Jof Owen’s lyrical tragedy and lyrical absurdity. See:
(1) “I’m not a boy/ I’m a big fat balloon.”
(2) “I’m too fat to go the gym/ so I stay at home and watch keep-fit videos.”
(3) “I made a machine called the boy least likely to/ it feeds me shortbread biscuits.”
(4) “I know kung fu/ and I’m not afraid of you.”
An integral part of their charm, the BLLT is deliberately obtuse at times or bluntly melancholy. Both sentiments hide behind their sunny melodies. The BLLT might sound like the musical incarnation of a cartoon, but their sentiments are simply the uncloaked articulation of generational anxieties that we all feel. They worry about aging and being broken-hearted and self-identity. Don’t be fooled though, the BLLT exude an admirable maturity throughout. For all their hurt and pain, they know if you hold your head up long enough, it eventually keeps itself up.
However, what separates Law from its predecessor? Very little. And that is why this is not as good of an album. “Saddle Up” uses the same formula as “Be Gentle With Me.” “The Worm Forgives the Plough” sounds awfully similar to “My Tiger, My Heart.” “A Fairytale Ending” isn’t much different than “Hugging My Grudge.” And the use of meta-title continues. However, this is not to say these songs flap or falter. In fact, the aforementioned songs off Law are excellent and just as appealing as their matches.
The BLLT have developed and stamped their particular aesthetic, especially because of instrumentalist Pete Hobbs signature melodies. The dynamic between Hobbs and Owen produces a sound and feeling that is unabashedly cutesy yet constantly endearing. Their worries are big and sometimes unintelligible, but their goals are admirable and modest (“I just want to change the world in whatever little way I can”). Although not a progression in sound, The Law of the Playground is a welcomed offering that confirms the Boy Least Likely To’s relevance in 2009.