Blue Rev, by Alvvays
Recently I had the misfortune of ranking down the top 100 songs from Rank Your Media from 2022. It is not as if the 100 songs were exactly bad, but most of them were inessential and inoffensive and decidedly mediocre songs that went in one ear and out the other without making much of an impression or impact in between. One of the rare exceptions to this was the band Alvvays, who had four songs in the countdown from their 2022 release Blue Rev. I was impressed enough by the sound of those sounds to think that the rest of the album might be as worthwhile a discovery as the songs on that list, and so it is that I decided it would be good listen to and review the entire album. When I was in the habit of buying albums in the pre-streaming age when I actually had something to play cds and tape cassettes on (unlike now), I had a rule that stated that when I lied three songs on an album by an artist I was unfamiliar with that I would take a chance and get the album and listen to the rest. And so it is that as I have listened to and enjoyed six of the fourteen songs on this album already, I think it is safe to figure that the album as a whole is going to be a good one. Is there a coherent aspect to this album, though, aside from its obvious good songs?
“Pharmacist” begins the album with a bittersweet and nostalgic song with somewhat obscure lyrics that is nonetheless a beautiful song that seems to be about relationships and addictions or bad habits. “Easy On Your Own?” contains a pointed look at a relationship where the singer feels she has wasted enough time and at least presents herself as indifferent to whether her longtime partner stays or goes. “After The Earthquake” follows, with a gorgeous but also nostalgic view of the good times of the past that the singer spent with someone else, with a mix of dreamy instrumental parts and vocal harmonies. “Tom Verlaine” appears to be a reference to someone who is like the late singer, with a discussion of the singer’s fondness for him as well as her apparent knowledge that when the person walks away it’s going to be for good, which sounds right. “Pressed” is a beautiful and pointed commitment on the part of the singer not to apologize for something she is not sorry for, which is the right attitude to have, although not always for the reasons the singer seems to think of. “Many Mirrors” offers a bittersweet look at a relationship where the love has died, but it is imbued with a sense of melancholy beauty that seems to be a hallmark of the album as a whole. “Very Online Guy” portrays the singer’s realization that a particular guy is always close and convenient to contact with, but the fear to turn away from that convenience. “Velveteen” offers a beautiful but sad look at a young woman who is convinced that the person that her friend/beloved is infatuated with cannot be her, so she wants to know who in fact that he is in love with. “Tile By Tile” offers what appears to be a song of devotion but also of admission that one has given the wrong impression to someone and that one should never have called someone, because it gave someone the wrong idea of what she was like. “Pomeranian Spinster” features rapid-fire lyrics about someone who doesn’t want to be alone, which is precisely what one would expect from someone who is in danger of being a German spinster. “Belinda Says” offers a look at someone who is deciding to move into the country to have her baby in the hope that no one will gossip about her and find a quiet job and find her way, apparently in the absence of a relationship or marriage. “Bored In Bristol” offers a lovely but all too brief look at another character sketch, something which appears to be a common element on this album. “Lottery Noises,” tells the audience of the song to take another shot at some sort of gambling (in love) as the narrator finds herself viewing love as a risky but worthwhile endeavor. The album then ends with a brief outerlude of barely a minute in length with “Fourth Figure.”
It’s hard to think of this album as a concept album, but there are definitely some threads that tie this album together. For one, the album is filled with the same kind of sound in terms of the bittersweet but lovely vocals as well as the tone of the instrumental palette of the songs, even though there is variation between the songs that keep the material from being monotonous even if the sound is consistent throughout. Another thread that seems to unite the songs together is a consistent tone of unhappiness or dissatisfaction with the state of one’s relationships. The songs portray people who are afraid to try again in love, who are distant from their partners, who are frustrated at having wasted years of their lives, or having gotten pregnant, or to be unmarried as they are getting older while wanting to be with someone. To be sure, these are certainly relatable concerns to many people (including this listener, which is why I thought this album was so excellent), but this is likely an album that would not appear to be obviously appealing to those who only listen to the sweet tone of the music and the voice and not reflect on the Abbaesque material within.