The Bravery: Stir the Blood


RIYL: The Killers, The White Lies, Black Tie Dynasty

With their self-titled debut, the Bravery were the anointed “next big thing” in the Post Punk revival that has defined indie music in the first decade of this new millennium. Danceable electronic rock and roll, they rode the hype into a couple of hits, only to return with a sophomore album that failed to enchant. The Sun & the Moon showed the group trying to stretch themselves musically, but did more to expose the limits of their songwriting, creating a very uneven experience, bogged down with an overabundant sense of self-importance. Now they are back, returning to original form with a third album called Stir the Blood that returns their glitzy energy to the forefront.

Now, replace all band and album titles references above with the corresponding works by the Killers, and notice that the paragraph works just as well. Hmmmmm…

Well, perhaps it is unfair to say the Bravery are riding on the coattails of their contemporaries, but the parallels are all but inescapable, and the comparisons aren’t favorable for the New York boys. Stir the Blood is an aggressive and eclectic collection of pop rock tunes, but unlike the Killers’ third work, Day & Age, which takes their balls-to-the-wall pomposity and showmanship and wraps it in ten well-crafted tunes, the Bravery still struggle to master the knack of a memorable song, and frankly appear to still take themselves way too seriously.

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It isn’t that Stir the Blood is awful. It has real moments of strength, but has the same unevenness that plagued their first two records. Weak songs like “Song for Jacob” and “I Am Your Skin” are simply forgettable. “Hatef**k” would fall here as well if it didn’t feature an honest-to-god, old-school guitar solo. Nothing to write home about, but the fact that it exists at all is a point in their favor.

“The Spectator” starts off strong, with a moody, melodic intro that hints at dark introspection, but Sam Endicott’s vocals, overly produced and distorted, come across as forced and stilted, failing to capture the listener after the music so smoothly pulls them in. This is endemic throughout the record, a return to one of the more annoying elements of their debut as well. Endicott’s singing is wrapped in effects, often muddying them or worse. At least they minimized his high-pitched whining, which made their first record difficult to listen to as a whole.

Where they succeed, the Bravery clearly steal from some interesting sources. This includes “She’s So Bendable,” which is a mix of the Jesus & Mary Chain and Daniel Ash, while “I Have Seen the Future” is entirely structured around the original “Dr. Who” theme song. Seriously. Just try and avoid picturing the Tardis spinning away in some bad ‘70s special effects when you listen to it.

These odd influences continues with “Red Hands White Knuckles,” where they copy the electronic drum line right off of Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice” theme, returning to it like a refrain that is an effective hook for the ear. Hard to imagine that these classic TV elements are just happenstance, so give the Bravery props for some clever arrangements that do what good pop music should. It grabs you with something familiar and yet goes somewhere new.

Still, the bands penchant to emulate a little too closely comes out in their final track, “Sugar Pill.” Sounding like nothing else on the album, this song is a complete and utter copy of the National, like an outtake from their brilliant 2008 album Boxer. Endicott mimics Matt Berninger’s basso rumble, lyrically trying to sound as poetic, but only coming across as obscure.

Energetic but uneven, intriguing but derivative, Stir the Blood is a move in the right direction for the Bravery, but they still have a ways to go. (Island 2009)

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