You could argue Ali Love (aka Alistair McLovan) has strangely good timing. Not lost amongst 2009's crop of synth-pop revivalists - and with the brickbats already thrown at anyone who dared to hint at a vintage Korg collection - maybe there's little cynicism left to lob at Love Harder. But it might also be too little, too late.
McLovan himself has come a long way since 2006's K-Hole, a cautionary tale about falling "asleep on the bassbins" and throwing up on your plimsolls. Where K-Hole was comedically crass and edgily unlikeable, Love Harder is sonically much softer if not over-processed; all the spikes worn down. And though his lyrics reflect an imperfect world in which girls are lost in dry-iced dancefloors (Smoke & Mirrors) and where love is just "a chain of diminishing returns" (perhaps informed by Ali's stint living above an east London nightclub), musically it's shiny as patent leather, smothered in Italo-disco flourishes and pulsing electro stabs.
Album opener and first single Love Harder is a high point. It's certainly a statement of intent, beginning with the volume whoosh of a siren that demands your attention. It's also where Love's pained and almost metallic vocal delivery seems to work to greatest effect, as he sings of being hooked "like a junkie" on the love of one of this album's many disco Jezebels. Second single Smoke & Mirrors is similarly forceful, with its pow-pow synths and tinny drums that put you in mind of a Jellybean Benitez production, circa 1983.
The trouble is, even if you ignore the sheer retroism on display here - and simply enjoy Love Harder's (significant) pop charms - it's ultimately rather one-note. The duets may be an exception; Done the Dirty features Lou Hayter from New Young Pony Club sounding very like Lily Allen, and The Night with Samantha Lim from teenagersintokyo do combine to produce Love Harder's softer and more affecting moments. They're also something of a relief from the steeliness of McLovan's vocals. But tracks like Diminishing Returns - with its up-and-down keyboard runs that feel too cheap, too easy - and Moscow Girl's robot-voiced chorus ultimately make for an album that sounds a little too cold for the sweaty world it sprang from.
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