“I’m ready to ask you: Did you achieve all you wanted to do?” Those are the first words sung on Love Is Dead…, the third album from Glasgow’s indielectro trio CHVRCHES. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry sounds world-weary on the LP’s opening track, “Graffiti,” and it’s thematically unlike anything the band has ever done. Behind Mayberry’s contemplations on lost youth, multi-instrumentalists Iain Cook and Martin Doherty blast the trademark CHVRCHES synth-pop, but it never leaves the song feeling disjointed. The trio has always trafficked in a menacing kind of sparkling beauty; it’s what made songs like 2013’s “Gun” or the Hayley Williams-assisted “Bury It” remix stand out in a crowded field. But on Love Is Dead…, that menace has turned into exhaustion and frustration, and it grounds some of Mayberry’s most direct lyrics to date.
To say that this album is CHVRCHES’ “political” statement would be disingenuous, but Love Is Dead… is certainly influenced by the specific ways the world has gone to shit. More than any of the band’s previous music, the moment that can help one understand the lyrical weariness on the record is Mayberry’s 2013 Guardian editorial on internet misogyny. In it, she was angry but hopeful: “Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not.”
Five years later, that same toxicity has only frothed harder to the surface, and Mayberry is still having to talk, and sing, about the same issues. On “Heaven/Hell,” the album’s longest track and its thematic centerpiece, she sings about the juxtaposition that has accompanied the trio’s very public growth spurt, and her own personal journey as a female frontwoman: “Is it alright if I save myself and if I clean up my own mess? Is it enough yet? Because I’ve had enough.” Seven years into the trio’s career, it doesn’t appear to be getting easier to simply exist as musicians, or as people, and Love Is Dead… makes no bones about how exhausting that has been for CHVRCHES.
Of course, the trio is still one of the best at making glistening, electronic pop, and, in a somewhat classic twist, that energy is prevalent throughout. Lead single “Get Out” — only slightly disappointing because it’s not connected in any way to Jordan Peele’s horror tour de force — growls to life with a fuzzy synth line that roars into an anthemic chorus designed to be belted in sold-out arenas. It’s bigger and darker than previous singles, such as “Recover” (still the band’s calling card song) or 2015’s “Leave a Trace.”
Second single “My Enemy” is such a departure that it not only has the band’s first guest vocals on a proper release (courtesy of everyone’s favorite sad sack, Matt Berninger from the National), but it’s also the band’s most downbeat song to date. Final single “Miracle,” which the trio played on Fallon in the lead up to the album’s release, is the boldest stylistic choice of all: With its dramatic synths giving way to a veritable breakdown on the chorus, the song throws a vocal filter on Mayberry asking for something more ordinary than divine intervention: “If love is enough, could you let it show? If you feel it, could you let me know?” There’s also talk of angels in dark skies, but those clouds have only gotten more foreboding. To simply hope for someone to share a feeling with feels revolutionary.
Of course, for those who miss the old CHVRCHES, the Bones of What You Believe CHVRCHES, there’s no need to fret, thanks to the one-two punch of “Forever” and “Never Say Die,” snarling and stunning in turn. The chorus on the former is a distillation of the duality that has always raged inside CHVRCHES: while Mayberry has never shied away from a fuck off, her bandmates are more than willing to provide a glittering synth line or a guitar line that crawls its way into your head for the next 4 to 6 months. So, when she sings “I always regret the night I told you I would hate you till forever,” the explosion of sound that accompanies it makes you feel less guilty about texting your ex the song with a “thinking of you :)” message. It’s a taste of the intimacy that peppered the band’s previous LPs, but it stands out also because it leaves nothing to the imagination: It’s the truth, take it or leave it.
In interviews leading up to the release of Love Is Dead…, the band has not shied away from their intention on the record: honesty. Speaking to Pitchfork, Mayberry laid it out in plain terms: “If I don’t believe in what I’ve written, then how can I expect anyone else to believe in that either?” It’s how a band most famous for writing songs that you can sing in your bedroom while thinking about unrequited love can deliver something like the album closer “Wonderland” with a straight face, and succeed no less. “We live in wonderland. The blood isn’t on our hands. When will it be enough?”
It’s a simple thought, that while misogyny and gun violence and xenophobia and other such horrors get tighter grips on our modern times, so many choose to hide behind what’s comfortable. CHVRCHES is, loud and clear, sick and tired of it. Perhaps because growing old has gotten old (Mayberry was 24 when the band started, but she turned 30 at the end of last year, while Cook and Doherty are 43 and 35, respectively) or perhaps because the world has forced their hands, but the band is no longer interested, it appears, in burying it and rising above. Instead, they’re getting into the muck and turning their frustrations outwards, with both an optimism towards changing the world and an understanding that not everyone has the ability to share that same hope.