In Allo Darlin’s Europe, there is no Greek debt crisis. No tensions with Iran. Just pop songs and broken hearts, and that seems like enough to worry about. The U.K. indie-pop quartet’s sophomore album is focused through the lens of nostalgia: Letters are penned, old friends are missed, and life seems better back in London than on the dizzying, deficit-challenged continent. But most of all, the lyrics of frontwoman Elizabeth Morris are devoted to songs themselves, treating them as characters with starring roles—good and bad—in her life.
As Morris deals with relationship woes and skirts the surface of larger tensions, those songs become the metaphor of her struggle to move on or retreat to the past. “I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that will mean something,” Morris sings in “Tallulah,” then ponders the same of the people she’s met. An opposing sentiment comes in album closer “My Sweet Friend,” whose title figure seeks to reassure her: “You said a record is not just a record / records can hold memories,” Morris sings, but it does no good: “All these records sound the same to me.” Yet the song—a downcast, ukulele-driven mid-tempo effort—doesn’t sound ready to embrace next week’s chart debuts.
It’s not all grey skies on Europe. It’s a second character who tells her to buck up once again on the title track: “You said, this is life / This is living,” and for a moment, Morris sings like she believes it. (And what a relief to find a singer who realizes emotional revelations don’t always gush forth from some mythic internal spring.)
Europe doesn’t break the band’s sonic mold. The album’s a touch more fleshed-out than Allo Darlin’s spare, strummed 2010 debut, turning to the relatively polished guitar jangle of the Go-Betweens—an admitted influence—or the Smiths, with slide guitars and string embellishments adding flavor to songs such as “Some People Say.” There are flashes of Belle & Sebastian on “Still Young,” a song that shimmers with 1997 Stevie Jackson-style guitar tones. Morris’ melodies are sober and clear, her deeper feelings peeking out from around the edges of her voice—a twee instrument in line with the UK’s humbly sad C86 tradition.
The band’s keen sense of its predecessors was evident in Allo Darlin’ tracks such as “Woody Allen,” but that was a different band, one dreaming of racing past its influences. Europe wisely opts to find its place among them. The result is a no less charming of a record, but one shadowed by maturity. Growing up and indie pop don’t always get along, but in Europe, they have plenty to teach each other.