If I may for just a moment, please allow me to commit a cardinal sin of music criticism: quoting a band’s press release. “TEEN’s new album, Love Yes,” reads the copy from Carpark Records, “explores the disharmony and empowerment that both sexuality and spirituality can create within the modern woman’s psyche.”
I bring this up not to take a jab at Kristina Lieberson’s increasingly bold artistic outlet, but to point out how accurate of a statement it is. Despite a title that might seem overly optimistic to the untrained ear, Love Yes is that rare album that actually has a lot to say about its heady subject matter, lyrically living up to the lofty ambitions set by TEEN’s PR team. On the first three tracks alone, Lieberson — or at least the female narrator embodied by Lieberson — deals with a husband whose fear of mortality causes him to second-guess his marriage (“Tokyo”), a self-professed nice guy who believes his sensitivity absolves him from any romantic wrongdoing (“All About Us”), and the specter of an ex, plain and simple (“Gone For Good”). The lyrics get even more complicated when Lieberson refuses to play the blame game, setting her inner critic on herself as well as her partners. If she aimed her crosshairs exclusively at significant others, Love Yes wouldn’t be exploring disharmony and empowerment — it would just be one or the other.
That’s a lot to take in, and as a result, Love Yes‘ cerebral emotionalism works best when locked into a colorful groove. It’s not that I don’t want to think when I listen to TEEN; I’d just rather dance first, especially when the album opens with fuzzed out, impossibly thick keys from Kristina’s sister, Lizzie. “All About Us” gains similar momentum thanks to Boshra Al-Saadi’s bass, which bounces between root notes and directly paralleling the rhythm of Liberson’s airy vibrato.
As long as Love Yes relies on these simple yet effective tricks, it goes down like rock candy, the sweetness undercut by a compellingly sour sting. Only when the band tries to match the lyrics’ complexity with the music does the album begin to falter. I hate to adopt the neanderthalic rock pacing argument (“slow and weird, baaad; fast and simple, goood!”), but in the case of Love Yes, the uptempo tracks are the best vehicle for Lieberson’s elaborately layered words. Just compare the four false endings of the title track with Katherine Lieberson’s no-frills, cardiac drumming on “Superhuman” (not to mention the “Like A Virgin” synths), and see which one gets its hooks into you faster. One is a dance song, while the other is a dance song that’s trying not to be a dance song.
“Another Man’s Woman” and “Animal” are also both characterized by derailing freakouts, evaporating into a fog of numbing harmonies and cybernetic guitars by the end. In these moments, it feels like TEEN are fighting against themselves as a band. Although there aren’t quite as many detours as there were on In Limbo or The Way and Color, one still gets the sense that the Liebersons and Al-Saadi still don’t fully trust their more visceral instincts. Why else would there be a series of pointless horn interludes after several of the songs? Maybe the jazzy sax and trumpet breaks have some sort of deeper meaning to the band members, but they reek of trying too hard, of musicians striving to be complicated when they shouldn’t feel like they need to be. The lyrics already do that for them.
Essential Tracks: “Tokyo”, “All About Us”, and “Superhuman”