If you’ve craved some terrific pop weirdness this decade, DRINKS’ first album, Hermits on Holiday, should be in your regular rotation right away. The meeting of minds with Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley sounds like The Velvet Underground & Nico if you told two people to recreate that album only based on your description of how it sounds. It varied between being cheerfully scatterbrained, funny, and even quite moving. Presley and Le Bon proved themselves kindred spirits and willing to push each other to great effect.

Though not inaccessible, Hermits on Holiday was an acquired taste. Anyone who wasn’t fond of it likely won’t be a fan of the duo’s sophomore effort, Hippo Lite. However, its resemblance to its predecessor isn’t enough to make it a worthy second effort, or even a good album, period. If Hermits was the right way to show homage to their influences and display their eclecticism, Hippo is the wrong way.

Le Bon and Presley might have been going for something a bit more mature-sounding, and that would be splendid and welcome, if the seemingly-more contemplative songs had palpable feelings beyond boredom. Opener “Blue From the Dark” stumbles along its way with wispy guitar and piano. Presley’s vocals are weary and nothing else, evoking none of the quiet passion found on a track like ‘Tumble, Lies & Honesty’ from his White Fence album Is Growing Faith. Remarkably, that listlessness somehow creates one of the better tracks here.

The genius of DRINKS’ debut was that they would find incredible hooks early on, and then figure out how to repeat them all while keeping them fresh. ‘Spilt the Beans’ is roughly three times as long as the two-minute ‘Cheerio,’ but thanks to Le Bon and Presley’s infectious enthusiasm and sharp instrumentation, both tracks fly by. In contrast, the songs on Hippo Lite have would-be hooks that can barely sustain their first go-rounds. On tracks like ‘Leave the Lights On’ and ‘Pink Or Die,’ it seems they just decided that reciting the title as disinterested as possible would be acceptable. None of the songs here are particularly lengthy, but the way ideas evaporate almost instantaneously makes it a slog of an album. It doesn’t help that one-third of the tracklisting is made up of befuddling interludes, with only one (a reprise of another, no less) offering any intrigue thanks to some well-rendered telephone rings.

Both Le Bon and Presley are complicit in Hippo Lite’s failure, but if there’s one encouraging realization about this album, it’s that they can bail each other out when necessary. On ‘Corner Shops’ Le Bon turns up the twee to an almost nauseating effect, but Presley peppy vocal melodies in the chorus are an effective antidote. Likewise, ‘Ducks’ is one of the most confused numbers here, but Le Bon’s sharp howls show traces of how good it could’ve been. If there’s a (default) MVP here, it’s Le Bon. The melodic first half of ‘Pink or Die’ that she leads is similarly promising thanks to her vocals.

What went wrong here? After Hermits on Holiday, I figured a weak DRINKS album would be, at worst, charming but slight. Instead, we have something that’s poor by most standards, not just for seasoned pros like Le Bon and Presley. There’s no joy to be found in taking apart these songs and seeing what makes them tick. The zippy nihilism that gave them life now feels like moribund ennui that’s only lessened in spurts, like the gliding strings and synth melody on the closer. The name of that song? ‘You Could Be Better.’ Here’s hoping DRINKS can’t get any worse than this.