'What is Love?' by Clean Bandit | Album Review

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Last month, British pop-trio Clean Bandit released their second studio album 'What Is Love?'. The sixteen track deluxe version of the LP clocks in at just over 57 minutes featuring a range of star-studded collaborations from the likes of Demi Lovato to Ellie Goulding to Charli XCX.?? 

The title of Bandit's second studio effort is certainly intriguing. The band’s artistic vision for their album was to explore love and all of its complexities, more specifically, how versatile love can be – particularly how it can still be categorised as love despite changing shape depending on your company, for example a mother, a brother and a lover are indeed all loved but they are so in distinctly different ways.? 

Clean Bandit are absolutely right in saying that the way in which people love a parent differs from the way they love their significant other, which is music to all of our ears I suspect, speaking of which; does their long-awaited second studio album connect with listeners?

You’d be hard-pressed to not recognise at least one of the songs from this album, in fact, a whopping six out of the sixteen songs were all released as singles between 2016 & 2018. Long gone are the days of an artist only releasing two singles before their album so that there was at least some element of surprise felt on your first listen as opposed to this instance where we go in having already heard nearly half of the album.?? 

This flags up the issue of cohesion, to break down the ambiguity of that statement would be to ask this question - Are Clean Bandit really telling us a story on this record? Or are they simply selling us a handful of hit-singles with filler and fluff bringing up the rear? Poignantly, if it is the latter option is it then fair to categorise it as art?? 

Clean Bandit knows how to make a catchy radio-friendly pop song but after listening to the album it’s evident they’ve generally only followed trends the music industry has had to offer us in recent years. Having said that, five of the six singles from the LP have peaked in the top 5 or higher in the UK charts (with “Rockabye”, “Solo” and “Symphony” all hitting the #1 spot.) So, although their material may be formulaic, that’s not to say that people don’t want to hear it. 

One of the deep cuts on the album titled “We Were Just Kids” is a sunny, nostalgic number that features Craig David and Kirsten Joy playing the part of two ex-lovers reminiscing about a past love and all of its nuances. The song itself isn’t exactly ground-breaking though with the lyrical content feeling all too familiar to Ed Sheeran’s “Castle On The Hill”. The following song, “Nowhere” brings together Rita Ora and American rapper KYLE for a slightly moodier number, whereby the monotony of the track is broken up by upbeat whistling, which is very catchy but again, this feels reminiscent of a pop song from the past, in this instance, “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” by Selena Gomez.  

However, there are some shining stars among the deadwood, particularly when Clean Bandit decides to combine a slither of Spanish flare with modern pop, the results of which being an undeniable earworm. “Baby”, a shimmery, Latin-tinged floor filler sees Puerto Rican superstar Luis Fonsi teaming up with British starlet Marina (formerly Marina & The Diamonds) to grieve over a lost love. However, unlike “We Were Just Kids”, “Baby” is both fresh and reflective, but more importantly, it doesn’t leave the listener raking through their cupboards looking for a sick bucket.?? 

“Mama” which features pop songstress Ellie Goulding bears a resemblance to “Baby” in terms of genre although the Goulding assisted collaboration embraces Clean Bandit’s trademark rippling production with a combination of instruments that very much compliment Ellie’s velvety vocal contribution. The song also seems to be performing well on streaming sites in comparison to the other album tracks so it’s more than likely that this will receive single treatment at some point in 2019 particularly seeing as Goulding herself is gearing up to release her fourth studio album within the next year.?? 

The fact that Clean Bandit know how to make a radio-friendly pop song is pretty much a staple at this point. They’ve also proved themselves to be capable of creating collaborations which on paper, make no sense, but on actual listening seem to tick all the boxes a good song normally would, (unless of course, it features ex-Dr Phil guest ‘Bhad Bhabie’ who, quite frankly, should’ve been left “caught outside” of this project). Conversely, the fact of the matter is this, Clean Bandit are about singles, not albums; despite what they may tell us about their definition of love, these songs have all been crafted for radio to further their fifteen minutes of fame. However, the sad reality is that, contrary to the overall length of their sophomore effort, Clean Bandit, are, at best, only captivating for three minutes, not 57.??

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