“Sweater Weather” has finally become the crossover hit that The Neighbourhood have believed it to be (it’s a holdover from the band’s earlier releases), but I Love You doesn’t have enough to hold your attention once the winter clothes are away. Alt. radio successes that crossover tend to peak early and fall hard–anyone remember Flobots?–ultimately because their signature song is the “right place, right time” coalescing of all of their elements into one accessible, immediate package. In other words, if you’ve heard “Sweater Weather”, well, you know exactly what The Neighbourhood sound like at their best.
The rest of I Love You. finds The Neighbourhood making minor adjustments to their sound of a hip-hop oriented rhythm section, arena rock with Coldplay textured guitars, and some overwrought emo delivery and style to garnish. There’s even some light rapping.
And, to be fair, this isn’t an entirely hitless album, even removing “Sweater Weather”. “Afraid” has a hook that cuts through the song’s otherwise murky atmosphere, and the echo-y paranoia here actually works. The Neighbourhood’s rhythm section puts in overtime on the heavy stomp of “Alleyway” to great effect; even just above mid-tempo, “Alleyway” is still one of the livelier and stronger cuts present, and eases the typical mid-album lag. “Female Robbery” (also from the band’s EP) and “Everybody’s Watching Me (Uh Oh)” similarly benefits from clearer focus.
While those songs could redeem a sturdier base, they aren’t enough to cover I Love You.‘s album-long problems. The production is far too dense, and as a result, everything blends together oppressively, like staring intently at a gray wall. Then again, the blustery production hides the severely lacking songcraft; there’s seldom something interesting happening underneath the waves of reberb and breakbeats, such as the slog of “Flawless”, or “Let It Go” (no, not that one). Vocalist Jesse Rutherford has the double-headed curse of a pinched, mildly grating voice on top of adolescent, petty songwriting (sample lyric: “I had a funny sleep/I didn’t have a dream/because I don’t believe in them”) that means stretches of I Love You. are spent cringing.
The Neighbourhood are dying to be cool and mysterious; everything from the extra “u” in their name (the band is from California), punctuation in the album title, lone icons on the cover, and obsessive dedication to all things black and white scream “take me seriously”, but I Love You. comes up painfully short on charm or substance. Maybe if the band committed as a whole more to a style, or teased out more pop/rock/hip-hop flourishes in each song, something would leave an impact, but aside from “Sweater Weather” and a handful of others, there’s just nothing there. The best summary of I Love You. is the background of its very own album cover: sure, it’s a high-res, detailed, inverted, and foreboding picture, but a puff of smoke is still just a puff of smoke. Two stars out of five.
tl;dr: Did you already buy “Sweater Weather”? Yes? As you were, 2/5.