Returning three years on from the lacklustre Donkey – a record that exemplified the clichéd ‘difficult second album’, having been made while the band were embroiled in a bitter managerial dispute and struggling with the departure of original bassist Ira Trevisan – Brazilian electro-rock upstarts CSS are trying hard to recapture some of the exhilarating buoyancy and verve of their 2005 art-punk debut Cansei De Ser Sexy with the pointedly titled La Liberación. Now in their eighth year as a band the odds of doing so are stacked against them, but Lovefoxxx and co. refuse to go quietly with an energetic concoction of dirty electro, would-be dance anthems and afterparty jams that puts a heavy emphasis on fun but feels a little light on lasting appeal.
As the title suggests, the album as a whole is largely concerned with personal freedom, most often in the sense of embracing one’s outsiderhood. In this respect, ‘City Grrrl’ is the album’s centrepiece, drawing on Lovefoxxx’s own adolescent experience of yearning to quit the small-minded suburbs for the bright lights of São Paolo where her whimsical styling would seem less out of the ordinary. From a serene false start of finger-picked Spanish guitar, the song bursts into a funky electro-dance number fully worthy of their debut album, recalling the fierce and free nature of the younger Lovefoxxx in the catchy, declarative chorus of “I wish I could dye my hair pink / put on black lipstick / no one would give a shit.”
The brief, bratty punk-pop of album closer ‘Fuck Everything’ perhaps comes closest to the vintage CSS formula of shouty, exuberant vocals, rebellious lyrics and driving yet playful guitars, but it can be hard work to get there. The upbeat techno pop of ‘I Love You’, complete with slightly cringeworthy call-and-response interplay, feels surprisingly subdued until it suddenly transforms into a more aggressive electro-rock number that hits the spot much more satisfactorily. The reggae-inflected lead single ‘Hits Me Like A Rock’ is one of a few songs on La Liberación that finds Lovefoxxx bringing her effusive singing down a few notches. It’s an approach that works to the single’s advantage, giving the track a looser, more relaxed feel that’s complemented nicely by guest vocalist Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, but on tracks like ‘Partners In Crime’ and ‘Echo Of Love’ it feels somewhat half-hearted.
A seeming lack of commitment on behalf of CSS as a unit is what drags down La Liberación‘s second half, with a succession of forgettable, guitar-driven tracks that follow the Spanish-sung title song in all its gleeful punk simplicity. ‘Partners In Crime’ sounds indistinct and unfocused; ‘Ruby Eyes’ bounces along inconsequentially, never really making an impression; while ‘Rhythm To The Rebels’ comes across as a somewhat forced attempt to stir up some enthusiasm. The low-key ‘Red Alert’, a collaboration with electro producers Ratatat, at last provides a welcome shot of variety with a laidback, insouciant rap from Lovefoxxx and repetitious, flickering piano notes that drop in and out, making it one of the record’s most atypical songs.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the album, however, comes with ‘You Could Have It All’, with its raw dissection of the end days of a once-deep relationship. Set to a jaunty electro-pop backing, you could hardly call it a ballad, but it’s the closest CSS have ever come to showing real vulnerability, and the effect is wonderfully relatable. Overall, while La Liberación fails to live up to the rather tall order of matching the vitality and pep that was so fundamental to their early hits, it’s no Donkey either. In other words, while CSS may not be hot hot sex for the ears in 2011, the lifeless, perfunctory quickies of album number two are mostly a thing of the past.
[V2; August 22, 2011]