Peace is here to make the listener feel good.
Peace’s latest release, their third studio album to date, is a confusing one. With it, the band has an album that seeks largely to affirm, encourage, and uplift, but momentarily sinks into the depths of the facts of living with mental health issues. It’s an album that is almost entirely, uncynically, keen and positive. Peace’s members aren’t here necessarily to craft works of art or play with their audience; they’re here to make the listener feel good. But there is a dark underbelly that reveals itself.
Album opener ‘Power’ sets up the album with a self-affirming, self-esteem-boosting, own-your-life track with a chorus of “I got the power/ I know it’s true/ You got the power/ Yeah, I feel it in you.” The track manages to avoid going too far into sunny goodness, however, by fully embracing the cheese and backdating the sound of the song to a classic uplifting stadium rock track. It may not be lyrically tongue-in-cheek, but the self-awareness and borderline silliness and sarcasm make it more palatable. The follow-up, titular, track, ‘Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll,’ sadly fails to completely sidestep the potential rolled eyes with lyrics like “We’re all bones and skin/ With feelings underneath/ So let’s make war on war” that could well come across as joke lyrics from other artists. At times, genuinely emotional lyrics can sound humorous or like a parody, the line that separates the two being very thin, and ‘Kindness’ flirts a little too dangerously with it. When vocalist Harry Koisser asks, at the end of the song, “Peace, do you know what I mean?”, it’s impossible to not wonder if such an off-handed, casual, way of phrasing it isn’t in fact a joke.
Album closer ‘Choose Love’ grapples most blatantly with the band’s struggle to couple cheerful sentiment with lyrics that don’t alienate the more cynical. It’s the most peppy-sounding track on the album and contains the most barefaced attempt at a moral and message for the audience in the chorus: “Choose love, choose life, today, tonight/ No fear, no pain, no hate, no shame. It also is the only track to explicitly and directly comment on its own lyrical content; before the chorus Harry sings “Any idiot can sing it in a song, so I’ll sing it”. It’s an acknowledgment of the simplicity of the song, and its message, and posits that just because a concept or lesson is simple doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. Despite this, not enough is really done to move the message from cliché into the realm of something worth pondering. Lyrical images are so clearly black and white/good and bad as to be generical and underwhelming (“our sandcastles fade in the desert wind”… “the canary we got coughing in our coal mine”). References to genuine concerns that the audience might have (social media – “I scream to make it better in a hundred forty letters” – and pollution – “All’s left is plastics where the whales live and sing”) are passed over quickly it ends with the underwhelming moral: “In a world that can be so cruel, love is vital”. The chorused “choose love” message behind the song gains no new meaning or relevance over the course of the track’s four minutes, and the listener remains unconvinced that it is not a mere cliché.
Despite the band’s desire to increase positivity and create uplifting music, the best material on the album is when they explore the darker sides of humanity and themselves. Examples of this include the two middle-of-the-album tracks ‘From Under Liquid Glass’ and ‘Magnificent,’ as well as the twisted ballad ‘Angel’ – the three of which are the best tracks on the album. ‘From Under Liquid Glass,’ which was released in support of MQ Mental Health, explores vocalist and songwriter Harry’s own battles with mental health issues. Speaking about the song he said “Although this song is deeply personal, it’s really for everyone as most people have had, come into contact with or will have some degree of mental health issue in their lives” and the song is easily the most emotionally-impactful track, that may well also be the best track on the record. Harry runs away with the melody to the heights when he sings that “my soul must be fed” in the best vocal on the album, halfway through the choruses, before explaining that he is “Lying in my empty room on my broken bed/ And I’m left alone with my big fuckin’ mental head”. The lyrics pass from obscure to plain and back again as and when they most need to. While he may sing “The camel’s back is so close to broke/ Held together by a thread,” he follows it immediately with the heartbreakingly simple and illustrative “Nobody home, no one to phone/ I’m scared to face the music alone/ In my big fuckin’ mental head.” ‘Magnificent’ follows on from ‘From Under Liquid Glass’ with a look at the protagonist’s own self-view with some of the best bizarre lyrics: “It’s too loud, let’s escape town/ Everybody hates electronic music here” and “Don’t print these lyrics on a T-shirt/ I am just a servant to your ear.” It also contains within it the least arrogant lyric in the world to liken the protagonist to a deity: “I wish I was everything that I’m cracked up to be/ You say I’m like heaven, everybody’s lost belief/ Don’t give up on me just yet.” And then there’s ‘Angel’ which sits in a sonic space that is incredibly close to Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ – similar in melody, quality of the voice in the singing, the choice of layered background textures, and the moody, bouncing, arpeggiated guitar line. The song breaks away from the restrained emotionally-tinged vocal style to a more open-throated expression of fear and worry as Harry sings” All of my memories, melted and fading/ I’m terrified you’ll burn/ Yeah, I worry/ /Yeah, I worry about my angel.” ‘Angel is particularly wonderful for how it stays away from bombast. It would have been an easy song to turn up to 11, halfway through, but the consistency actually makes it all the more affecting.
Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll is an album of contradictions and considerations that perhaps needed more thought put into how enthusiasm can be presented most effectively in songs. Or perhaps it just needed more brilliant, sad songs. But then, by Peace’s own standards (“Peace have always been an explosion of happiness”), it wouldn’t be a Peace album. There’s something that is both admirable and uniquely listenable about a band and album that struggles with its own identity (positive and uplifting or sad and affecting?) and decides to just present it all.
An edited copy of this review can be found at https://giglist.com/peace-kindness-new-rock-roll