Love & Chemicals is Southampton-born Teenage Waitress’ debut; an album full of colour, emotion, and enough electro-synth to awaken the inner ‘80s fanboy in all of us. The record is a collection of twelve tracks; each bristling with affairs of the heart and wrapped up in a shroud of neon indie-pop.
It’s to be released on the 13th November (a refreshing splash of new music this year), and in preparation for an interview with the man behind the album himself, Daniel Ash, I slipped on my headphones and took in this ‘musical patchwork quilt’ of an LP. The ‘point’ of the album, aside from something different, is for each and every track to act as its own ‘vignette’, or short story – and this becomes clear from the opener alone…
The vocalised breaths of Ash into the kind of musical abyss prove a fitting way to introduce Love & Chemicals; ethereal in many ways, and altogether challenging to put into words. ‘High In Someone Else’s Time’ is constructed of a simple, sorrowful melody, which soon dips, allowing us a moment’s break before chugging like a cast-iron locomotive into the album’s grand entrance, ‘The Mess You Made Me Make’. The ‘poppiest’ of the record, ‘The Mess You Made Me Make’ packs a kind of hopeful despair – a theme that weaves itself throughout Love & Chemicals – but by God, it’s infectious all the same. It’s the perfect mix of electro-synth and alternative pop; the 1980s with a modern spin. It’s definitely one of the album’s best tracks, proving a consistent beat in the back of your mind.
‘I’m Leaving Berlin’, another single off of Love & Chemicals, opens with the subtle plucks of a guitar and background echoes which only set the tone for a more ‘harrowing’ track this time. ‘I’m haunted by this feeling, I’m not where I should be’ paint the story of a man not in control of where he’s going. It’s something we can all resonate with somewhat, and proves an eerie, if magnetic, tune.
‘You Ain’t Got It Bad’, featuring Blue Canary, gives me a late-ELO feel; with hints of almost vaporwave in there. In the space of three tracks, we’ve experienced a lot going on in this patchwork quilt. And yet, not the for the last time on Love & Chemicals, Ash is exactly right. There’s this simplistic, electro vibe that runs throughout each and every song. Themes of love, heartbreak and loss scatter themselves across the endless cosmic duvet of Love & Chemicals, but it’s worth noting that it’s not all sadness, either. There is a hope in many of these songs; not least helped by this poppy kind of explosive rhythm that undulates itself through every verse and every chorus.
‘Blue Walls’ is an example of this, especially in the bittersweet hope it holds. ‘Emma don’t be sad, this was not the life you’re meant to have’ is a fantastically haunting line; echoing lost promises and opportunities which should have been seized. It’s a deeply personal track; imbued with the stories and experiences of everyone Ash has ever known. ‘Blue Walls’s chorus, too, takes on the form of this uplifting chant, punctuated with every crashing drumbeat. I don’t know if it was deliberate on Teenage Waitress’ part, but the title is somewhat of a callback to Bowie’s ‘Sound & Vision’, at least in my mind (‘Blue, blue, electric blue, that’s the colour of my room…’) – fitting in, mood-wise. This life, this Emma, has not completed her fated course in life. But it is never too late to change.
‘First Draft Love Song’ is possibly the mellowest track on the album; an easy four minutes that roll by with all the simplistic groove of a Killers outtake. Ash’s vocals really shine here; wringing every verse with a precarious highwire trek between indifference and melancholy. Torturingly sweet. And then, quick as a flash, we’re delivered this fleeting rush of guitar with ‘I Don’t Like This Party’. By Now, Ash is pleading for help; everything around him feels fake, synthetic, not enough for him. This is one of the album’s real highlights; a fuse of post-punk and electro-synth to forge something truly unique. Short and intoxicatingly rich.
‘Maniac’, the album’s first to be written, boasts one of the catchiest choruses on the album – I don’t know why but it gives me real La Roux hints in areas. ‘When you’ve kissed and say you love him too, is it through fear of what you know he’d do?’ and several such lyrics are brilliantly written’ with increasingly sinister passages bound in contagious, synth-driven pop verses. I can also definitely hear a kazoo used in this track (one of many unorthodox ‘instruments’ that found their way into the final mix), and I love it.
‘TRAK!TRAK!TRAK!’ is one Ash himself regards as ‘an important moment in the album’, and I don’t disagree. While there are perhaps catchier picks, ‘TRAK!…’ builds over the length of the whole song; something that works really well. Its dreamy verses pull me into a childlike lull, building up speed before barraging into the repeat of the chorus. It’s certainly one of Love & Chemicals’ most interesting, ahem, tracks.
Colours are definitely one of Love & Chemicals’ key themes; present in the titles of the songs to the colour of the album’s vinyl. It’s integral to the very sound; with explosions of violent colours and emotions packed into bite-sized numbers. ‘Primary Colours’ only continues the trend, returning to the melancholy retreat of, ‘I was yours, and you were mine!’. Synths batter our ears like waves against the tranquil rocks; and at once we feel the inner rage of this collected man. ‘I’m never gonna live my life in primary colours’ is a particularly powerful line; poignant and laced with personal memory. This may be where the album goes its most ‘experimental’ (It’s Tusk-iest, so to speak), but most definitely familiar enough to demand a second listen.
‘You’ll Lose, My Love’ is an emotional rollercoaster that’s finally reached its drop. The track is the second-shortest on the album; its lyrics are fairly simple, but the way in which Ash so calmly deliver this Achillean blow of news to his love speaks volumes. Love & Chemicals closes with ‘Sweetie’; a reflection on how our protagonist was ‘made a fool’. If this was a novel – and in many ways, Love & Chemicals is – then we’re at the resolution. Those opening bars of ‘Sweetie’ shift all focus onto Ash, who deals blow after blow with increasing anger – something akin to ‘Death on Two Legs…’ from Queen’s A Night At the Opera. He admits defeat in a way; a pyrrhic victory in losing one of ‘nine lives’ to his partner. And with that, the track simply fades away.
I’m always in two minds about reviewing a band’s debut, especially when they haven’t yet proved themselves on the field of mainstream chart success. Will the album sound good? Will it be like all the rest? Will it prove enough for a sophomore release? And nine times out of ten, I let the pessimism get to me.
Not with Teenage Waitress. I slipped my headphones on and when I heard Love & Chemicals for the first time, I was blown away. This man is doing something entirely unique; catchy synth-studded numbers drenched in emotion, and sequins, and dazzling colour. It’s indie pop with a twist, and it’s done right.
I don’t know what the future holds for Teenage Waitress, nor how bright it will be. But a debut like this is nothing to smirk at, and with its four singles already praised and played by the likes of Radio X and BBC London, it’s obvious I’m not the only one to notice. From Southampton to Wembley, my fingers remain crossed – and my gaze firmly fixed – on what Ash tries his hand at next.
For anyone who likes contagious electro-pop, brought from the influences of Bowie and heartbreak, I recommend Love & Chemicals. If you’re interested in a physical copy, you can pre-order the vinyl here (in transparent violet, no less):
Love & Chemicals is also available on the likes of Rough Trade and Amazon; as well as in digital format.