If forced to use just one word to describe the Lucius aesthetic, it would be ‘maximalist’. Both Lucius’ debut album, Wildewoman, and now – coming some two and a half years later – Good Grief, its follow-up, employ a heavily nostalgic wall-of-sound signature.
It’s this that fills the tracks on Good Grief to the very brim with massive vocals and harmonies, strings, electronics and drama. Yes, drama – there’s a ton of it on Good Grief.
Even a cursory glance at the songs’ titles – ‘Madness’, ‘Gone Insane’, ‘My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve’ – confirm that this is not a lesson in self-containment. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig let it out loud, all of the time.
Lucius is actually a five-piece band not that anyone would ever guess. The other three members are kept well hidden with Wolfe and Laesigg’s vocals bulldozing their way to the forefront, magnificent and self-possessed to the point of explosion.
If Wildewoman took the girl groups of the 60s as its sonic underlay, then Good Grief looks partly to 80s electro-pop. We’re not talking about the chiller, precise synth-pop of early The Human League or Yazoo and Depeche Mode, but rather the more personality-dominated, multi-genre floridness of artists like The Go-Gos, Cyndi Lauper and The Thompson Twins.
There are two genres that each make up more or less half of Good Grief‘s playing time with said vocals constantly high in the mix: multi-layered and harmonised.
Madness opens the album with these voices, initially unaccompanied, which eventually glide over a modern, folk-country backdrop comparable to recent First Aid Kit and Jenny Lewis. It’s a strong start, bold and instant. Strings saw and emotions run high cushioned by an acoustic warmth.
‘Something About You’ follows and establishes the dual side of 2016 Lucius. Skittering around a glam-rock tempo, the song is built on a more contemporary pop structure compared to what has been heard so far from the Brooklyn based group. It’s fun and it works like good pop music should – ‘Something About You’ is instant and it sticks.
The first third of Good Grief deploys these opposing styles well. ‘My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve’ in particular is a piano-based ballad that bears up to repeat listens. Show-stopping and show-tune-like in nature, its repeated ‘I am lost in my own home’ line is both wrenching and lovely.
It’s on the record’s confused and overwhelming mid section where Lucius lose their way though. Blue-eyed soul choruses, over-cooked 80s-style dance tropes and, on ‘Gone Insane’, an unnecessary and vaudeville-like take on the beat track of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’. It’s a mess and nothing sticks. The material is just not sturdy enough to take such frenzied mood swings.
Tucked towards the back end of the album is an odd, grubbier-sounding and effectively off-centre track called ‘Better Look Back’. Although the pair are far from reserved in delivery (the line ‘I’m bored, want more!’ really wallops) there is power in the genuine oddness of the production that, when combined with a more subtle approach to songwriting and subject matter, makes this more arresting then some of the more (extremely) high-octane numbers.
Good Grief is often just that little bit too desperate to please and it’s when Lucius drop the facade for long enough that they reveal something that is more sincere and, ultimately, engaging.