The Mary Onettes’ Philip Ekstrom recently revealed that he was listening to a lot of Prefab Sprout and Brian Eno. While it’s hard to imagine two more awkward bedfellows, the sounds of both can be felt keenly on Love Forever. Like so many of today’s releases this is a record of indisputably eighties extraction, and in paying homage to the zeitgeist decade it touches upon new wave, gothic, synthpop and ambient. It’s an eclectic fifteen minutes.
As with previous releases, Ekstrom’s Robert Smith impression is in full voice, though in contrast to their debut or 2009’s Islands, Love Forever starts more akin to Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me than Disintegration, as the group momentarily shift tack from synth-driven dream pop to a more straightforward indie sound that sees them approach new romantic territory without diving fully in. Opener 'Love’s Taking Strange Ways', for example, with its panning tom-toms and stop-start bass grooves, isn’t a million miles away from early Spandau Ballet. 'Will I Ever Be Ready' continues in the same vein, with the group edging towards the acoustic jangle of Crowded House. The first time the band have relinquished the production, these opening two tracks find The Mary Onettes foregrounded. There is less reliance upon scale as the vast reverb of previous releases is replaced by a crisper, more intimate sound.
The EP’s second half, however, finds the group in more familiar territory. The expanse of earlier records is reprised on 'A Breaking Heart is a Brilliant Start' as Ekstrom’s incantations weave through piano chords that reverberate briefly and then disappear. As the gorgeous, melancholy ambience of '8th of June' floats away, you get a sense of where The Mary Onettes could go if they’re able to disband some of their eighties pretentions and go after a sound of their own.
And so, with those wordless three minutes Love Forever fades out and it becomes clear that '8th of June' is not only a beautiful piece in its own right, but a pleasant break from Ekstrom’s ramblings. As with a lot of lyrics written out from a second language, his messages seem lost in translation and there is an unfortunate schism between singer and audience. Sometimes this distance can work. Nina Persson, for example, has carved a career out of her eccentric brand of aloofness. Sometimes it doesn’t, however - think Einar Örn’s idiosyncratic ravings which dragged down even the Sugarcubes’ strongest material. Not quite as self-consciously twee as the Cardigans, The Mary Onettes’s unsuccessful quest for sincerity means that they tend towards the latter. As Ekstrom repeatedly declares “A broken heart is a brilliant start” it never quite feels like he’s getting across what he wants to say. Indeed, the words ‘broken’ and ‘heart’ are repeated so many times that their meaning is rendered completely bankrupt, and it is this unfortunate lack of human connection which hampers Love Forever.