Swedish outfit The Bell classifies itself as post-punk/melodic pop, and while that’s certainly part of their sound, their sophomore LP, Great Heat, consists primarily of synthesizers, looped drums, and other electronica techniques. While the record carries an amiable retro feel, the songwriting and music is too basic and uninteresting, resulting in a forgettable record that feels like it came out 25-30 years too late.
The trio consists of vocalist Mathias Stromberg and instrumentalists Nicklas Nilsson and Jan Petterson. Interestingly, because the members don’t live close to each other, Great Heat was mostly written and recorded through emails, electronic file sharing, and Skype. The Bell purposely set out to craft a perfect emulation of 80s glam rock—including “the riffs, the strings, the cold vocals”—but therein lies the problem; Great Heat also expertly captures the artificial, shallow, and dehumanized aesthetics that made so much 80s synth pop so unappealing.
Album opener “Dope Makes You” (like the rest of the LP) is a mixture of The Killers’ energy and Tears For Fears’ male vocals (though more monotone) with female vocals and the electronica blanket of so many one-hit-wonders from the imitated era. In 1985, it would’ve been a perfect fit for mainstream radio and/or the club scene; in 2011, it feels incredibly outdated and repetitive. Elsewhere, “The Sound” has a fairly catchy verse melody, and it’s probably the most memorable and affective track on Great Heat. Album closer “23 Seconds” is a slow ballad that, sequence wise, is perfectly situated, and songwriting wise, is likely the most mature piece here.
While there are some worthwhile moments on the album, most of the tracks fail to entertain. “Holiday,” in particular, is too tinny and monotonous that its superficiality shines through, preventing it from being anything more than something to fill the silence. Again, the album would’ve worked twenty-five years ago.
Considering what The Bell are trying to do, Great Heat succeeds; it easily captures the mechanized, soulless synth pop music flavor of the 1980s. However, one must wonder why anyone would want to capture that (and why any listeners in 2011 would want to hear it). Still, there are fans for every style of music so Great Heat has an inherent audience somewhere, and if nothing else, should Brian De Palma ever make a sequel to Scarface, he’ll already have a perfect soundtrack.