WhoMadeWho’s previous release, the mini-album “Knee Deep”, was something of a departure for the Danish three-piece. Having made their name blasting out upbeat, disco-derived party anthems for German punk-funk label Gomma, they elected to sign instead to the home of minimal techno, Kompakt. While their music remained similar on the surface, dark clouds began to form over the usual house beats and insistent basslines. The record’s key track was the mournful, churning single “Every Minute Alone”, which sounded a little like New York gloom-merchants Interpol if they’d been spiked with mephedrone. To hammer it home the video consisted entirely of men bawling their eyes out, while frontman Jeppe Kjellberg morosely sang to a support group.
Of course, it’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek. At one point you see a billboard displaying a fake Time Magazine cover with the headline “Danes are the happiest people in the world”, while a man weeps in the foreground. It's a joke about how a number of surveys have, in fact, proclaimed residents of Denmark to be the happiest on Earth – the Danish tourist board have even adopted it as an advertising slogan. Maybe that’s why despite “Knee Deep” showcasing a moodier side to WhoMadeWho, the band couldn't abandon their joyous side completely. Essentially they were still a party band, even if the party had entered that phase where drunk couples start arguing and someone smashes a window.
Still, as the saying goes, it's always darkest before dawn. The band’s new album “Brighter” takes us back into broad daylight and, even if the horrors of last night haven't been forgotten, the mood is initially more in keeping with the band's records on Gomma. Recent single “Inside World” kicks things off, and it's about the poppiest thing they've ever done – chirpy lyrics like “I love your feet, that's the love that I'm at” and “It's not a problem, it's not a problem” tunefully sung over a backing track the Pet Shop Boys would be proud of.
Indeed, there's an eighties feel to the whole album. “The Sun” wouldn't feel out of place on a Duran Duran album, while epic closing track “Below The Cherry Moon” shows they can happily take on Cut Copy, the arch-plunderers of that era, at their own game. And win. It gets to the point that when Kjellberg starts repeating “and I run, and I run, and I run...” on the chorus of “Running Man”, you start hearing the “Run away, run away, run away” refrain from Bronki Beat's “Smalltown Boy”.
Saying that, “Running Man” is actually one of the album's catchiest songs. While it begins with what sounds worryingly like the opening chords to a power ballad, it soon develops into a stomping monster, much like a jogger pounding city streets into the night. Particularly nice is the brief instrumental section which utilises not only some quirky piano trills but also subtly employs a bit of muted cowbell. If you can use a cowbell with subtlety, you have a deft touch.
That deftness is particularly audible in tracks like “The Divorce” and “Skinny Dipping”, both of which would've fitted nicely on last year's fantastic Metronomy album “The English Riviera”. This is thanks not least to the incredible bass playing of Tomas Hoffding, whose peerless plucking always remains crisply cradled in the mix.
Yet despite these high points, you still yearn for a track like “Every Minute Alone” to tear things up and elicit some tears before bedtime. The band seem to have shied away from that more explicitly emotional type of track, and it's a shame. They've already perfected their brand of playful synth-pop, and while the music here matches, even surpasses, that on their first two albums, it doesn't give us anything we haven't heard before.
As they approach their forties, perhaps the band are getting too old to learn new tricks. Or maybe their inherent Danish happiness forbids them from getting gloomy. It'd be evil to wish sadness on a group that sound so good when they're happy, but you do wonder how much better they might sound if they found themselves knee deep in loneliness again...