I have to admit on the first few listens I was disappointed. It’s something I’ve experienced before when an artist you love gets a bit bigger. The past joys of discovering something wondrous for yourself are replaced with a below expectation product brought to you mass media. With the band now signed to the still independent yet not insignificant Ninja Tune imprint, could I be experiencing this again?
Working from home means I don’t need to closet my daily soundtrack from the rest of the office and I am free to play music out loud. But without the sounds injected directly into my brain it is much easier to be distracted. An alternative approach to listening revealed itself in during a long lockdown day. Instead of just sticking New Me, Same Us on in the background, as I had been, full of new album new label expectation, and waiting for another ‘Wildfire’, ‘Ritual Union, ‘Paris’ or ‘Lover Chanting’ to jump out at me, I needed to dedicate some time and concentrate on it.
Little Dragon had changed with this new release, and I needed a moment to adjust too.
New Me, Same Us points to this realignment in its title. It’s an album that needs you to pay attention. And whether I was writing this review or not, I wanted to give it the time. Sure, it may lack some of the grab-you-by-the-ears pop moments of some of their other albums, but subtlety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A little effort will bring you some measured rewards.
So what did I discover on my most recent revelatory listen to New Me, Same Us?
The quartet of songs that open the album are, as it turns out, not such a revelation. I don’t mean that in a bad way – simply that it’s Little Dragon being Little Dragon, doing their thing and making the music we love, but with a little twist. ‘Hold On’ is a strong start as the band play around with established strong structures. Unexpected samba sounds are out on ‘Rush’ – I’m a sucker for a bit of Latin percussion. ‘Another Lover’ is a slow builder before the contrasting Postman Pat riff of ‘Kids’ – although the kids are not watching the loveable animation, they’re “rock stars, now”.
The remainder however, while it contains glimpses of brilliance, lacks variety. There are simply too many slow songs. Despite the due attention paid, I’m still missing a tune that draws me to the dancefloor. I’m also searching for something a bit more meaningful in the lyrics. Other than the emotional and musical peak of the build in ‘Another Lover’, heart on the sleeve moments lose out to the superficial. ‘Are You Feeling Sad?’ is the upbeat exception, but the bulk of the lyrics are “no worries, no worries, no”, “la la la la la la la” and “HEEYYYYYYYYY”.
Right now must be a naff time period for any artist, big, small or growing to put out music. Fellow bastard Nick Parker has written about wanting to retreat in to the familiar at this time instead of exploring new music. In a couple of very odd ways – not only because they couldn’t have anticipated what releasing an album in March 2020 would mean for them or anyone – New Me, Same Us seems to be the right album at the right time: reassurance when we need it most. Sadly, we are only reassured that while Little Dragon are still a great band, they’ve still not made a truly great album. I believe they can. My expectation remains.
Words by James Spearing.