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Jungle - For Ever Music Album Reviews

On their second album, the buzzy UK group only sometimes overcomes their style-over-substance sound that coats their glossy songs.

The British soul collective Jungle wear their second-hand influences with pride. They come about disco by way of Disclosure, Marvin Gaye by way of Pharrell, and Sly and the Family Stone by way of Portugal. The Man. With less industry savvy they might just be a wedding band that does a mean “Get Lucky,” but thanks to their viral videos and a supportive British music press, they’re one of the UK’s buzziest acts, and a magnet for royalties and licensing fees. It was prescient that they titled their biggest track “Busy Earnin’,” because it sure has been.

Despite its superficiality, Jungle’s 2014 debut was an effective jam-delivery vehicle that doled out one agreeably brainless funk track after another. On their follow-up, For Ever, they strive for something a little more substantial. While writing the album, band principals Josh “J” Lloyd-Watson and Tom “T” McFarland both ended long relationships, and many of these songs find the two nursing wounded hearts. Whether the For Ever of its title is a deliberate nod to Bon Iver’s For Emma is unclear, but there’s a good dose of Justin Vernon’s tortured falsetto in the guys’ voices on the yearning “House in LA” and the funereal “Pray.” Or maybe they borrowed that from James Blake (again, their musical influences usually boil down to whatever’s newest).

Los Angeles looms over the record, not as a symbol of sunshine and opportunity, but as a failure, the city they couldn’t make work. After Lloyd-Watson moved there for a relationship, the band began recording the album there—and, truly, if there’s anywhere a band this plugged into to the musical zeitgeist belongs, it’s LA—but they returned to London after the sessions (and the relationship) didn’t pan out. “Truly you care if I’m getting on that plane,” they sing on “House in LA,” “So ask me to stay/Oh God, in the hope that you can heal my pain.”

So there’s an emotional arc here, which, on paper, is a welcome change from the style-over-substance approach of the band’s debut. “We’re using the music to put our thoughts and feelings and fears into, rather than just thinking, ‘This has got to be a song that people like,’” Lloyd-Watson told the Evening Standard. “We weren’t really doing that before.” Unfortunately, heartbreak isn’t this band’s strong suit, and neither singer has the type of voice that make listeners invest in their pain. Their reedy, one-note falsettos barely have the range for dance tracks that ask almost nothing of them, and For Ever’s mopier material is at odds with the very specific, frivolous itch that listeners come to this band to scratch.

Jungle fare best when they stick to the grooves. “Heavy, California” splits the difference between Off the Wall and Junior Senior, while “Beat 54 (All Good Now)” rides an airy disco loop. But this band lacks the songwriting prowess or basic self-awareness to make their tracks anything more than mildly pleasurable pastiches. Their critique of consumer culture on “Happy Man” (“Buy yourself a dream/How’s it looking?/Buy yourself a car and a house to live in”) would sound a lot more convincing coming from a band whose best-known song wasn’t literally used as a car commercial. It’s ironic, given Jungle’s success in marketing themselves, that just about the only thing this band can’t seem to sell is their emotions.

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