I’ve been reluctant about the popular side of rock. The potential for repetition and the space for problematic lyrics has kept me at bay. It leaves me to savor complex instrumentals and lyrics that gleam with purpose. That all changes with The Maine’s Lovely Little Lonely, with its astounding vocal integrity, charming lyrics, and super-effective structure. It completely disarmed that mindset. The trip through the smaller interlude pieces “Lovely”, “Little”, and “Lonely” is such a fun and invigorating experience. The energy throughout the album is heartfelt and contagious, speaking of love in a way that makes me want to believe it. The vocals are complex, nimble, and stimulating. A good part of the album sounds like a tightened, polished-up version of The 1975, with more emphasis on the love than sex. I buy it.
The Maine is undeniably on the poppier side. For a long time, the pop sound that’s been a turn-off for me. In this case, it all works. The instrumentation is simple and easily digested throughout most of the album. It’s got pockets of sizzling licks that make the sweet notes taste all the sweeter.
The vocals come off as the most demanding part of the music, but The Maine’s singer John O’Callaghan deftly turns a musical phrase and makes it look easy. O’Callaghan gets into his zone in several different emotionally charged ways. The vocals of “Bad Behavior” are disarmingly sweet and contagious with energy. In “Do you Remember?”, the listener gets a taste of the rare moment when a singer shouts “Hey!” and it works. It works well. The falsetto in the same song O’Callaghan uses is nothing short of delectable. The vocals of Lonely are charged with tender vulnerability.
Whether O’Callaghan is at the front of the sound, the background, or in terse vocal breaks, he makes it a staple and highlight of the album. The idea of the three vignette songs of the title makes for a unique, encapsulating look into the album’s nature. Each transition into “Lovely”, “Little”, and “Lonely” comes off, for the most part, very smooth. “Lonely” is a little clunky to start. There’s a constant backing of diverse instrumentation that moves seriously well. Piano, wood blocks and acoustic guitar are only a few of the moments that give this album sporadic hints of flavor that really give it nuance.
When the transitions work, they’re brilliant. Refrains pull the listener right back and are a strength of the album. The poetic asides in “The Sound of Reverie”, the come downs in “Don’t Come Down” and the amazing intro of “Black Butterflies and Déjà Vu” are but a few of the moments where the transitions stick their landings damn well.
The Maine’s Guitarists Kennedy Brock and Jared Monaco keep a strong, simple guitar line through most of the album that just works. Simple solos like the one in “Black Butterflies and Déjà Vu” speak volumes in their simplicity. Conversely, the solo in “Do You Remember?” takes out the stops and floors me for an intensely satisfying three seconds. My general preference for flashy guitar work can’t help but feel good about the effectiveness of these simple strums.
At its best, Lovely Little Lonely creates sincerely feel-good rhythms boosted by the lyrical and vocal acrobatics of O’Callaghan. Songs like “Déjà Vu and Black Butterflies” and “Lost in Nostalgia” create notably great layers of music. “Do You Remember?” Is growly and flamboyant in vocals and guitar work in the best of ways.
The dynamics and structure of the music are far more hit than miss. The choruses, one could imagine, are power moments that dip between “gung ho” high energy and soft emotional pensiveness. At its worst, the album has transitions that don’t make the cut and fall short of the rest of the album’s energy. For fans of Country, the song “I Only Wanna Talk To You” may not be as overwhelmingly unpleasant as it was for me. There are some nice bends in the guitar, and there are some parts of the song that sound nice. That’s all I’m going say about it.
An album says a lot when it manages to get me to learn something about how I see music. Besides “I Only Wanna Talk to You”, I thoroughly enjoyed this album, which I might have previously snubbed. It had the energy, the whimsy, and the easy listening that good Indie/Pop/Rock has, and I didn’t feel the problems of lyrical content, laziness, or repetition that I’ve learned to expect with the genre. My expectations have been surpassed.