Grade: 1.0 / 5.0
No one was asking a lot of The Script. The Dublin based pop-rockers floated through the 2000s on the backs of a few relatively popular singles: “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” and “Breakeven” from their debut, self-titled album, as well as “Six Degrees of Separation” and “Hall of Fame” off of 2012’s #3.
The formula didn’t change much for nearly a decade, and that was fine. It worked. But Freedom Child, which dropped Friday, sidesteps the group’s ability to produce pop songs with a relatable emotional core. This latest effort is littered with One Direction-esque vocal riffs, heavy autotuning and belabored references to Tinder and the news cycle.
For all their melodrama, tracks like “Breakeven” always had something aesthetically pleasing to them. Lyrics like “I’m still alive but I’m barely breathin’ / Just praying to a God that I don’t believe in / ‘Cause I got time while she got freedom / ‘Cause when a heart breaks no it don’t breakeven” carried something that felt personal. Frontman Danny O’Donoghue’s crooning falsetto chorus “I’m falling to pieces” hits a chord in all of us.
Cut to “Rock the World,” off of Freedom Child. It opens exactly like a commercialized teen-boy-band track marketed via the Disney Channel: “We didn’t listen when they said it can’t be done / We’re on a mission to prove everybody wrong.” Sure.
Present, too, are the hallmarks of the EDM movement — vocoder-like effects, build-ups followed by heavy, pumping kick-drum choruses, etc. Except these choruses feel off, empty in a way — a reminder that for all we might complain about the repetitiveness and “lack of creativity” in mainstream pop-EDM, at least the popular producers of the genre are damn good at their jobs. “Rock the World” is a poor facsimile of it.
Not to mention that somewhere around the two-minute mark, The Script launches into a bridge that should (and doesn’t) have Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk listed as songwriting credits — it’s a blatant (and poor) recreation of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “Technologic.”
Then the band get political, and everything truly falls apart. “Divided States of America” has about as much capacity for inciting social change as its title suggests, featuring a Gym Class Heroes-style rap breakdown about gunmen in America.
In an interview, O’Donoghue addressed the album’s attempt to reach out to young U.S. audiences: “We’re not red, we’re not blue, we’re in between saying we all need to come together and talk about this because you’re ruining your own streets.” It sounds a bit tone-deaf, and quite a bit reductive — particularly from a couple of Irish guys.
Freedom Child is a whopping 14 tracks long, and though it clocks in at a reasonable 50 minutes, boy, does it drag. It’s hard to say where the fat should be trimmed here, because no track on the album is even single-worthy. “Wonders,” “Eden,” “Rock the World” and “Freedom Child” all tread the same ground — drop a few and you won’t miss out. And in the drive toward the “party song” type externality, gone are the relatable, personal vulnerabilities that allowed audiences to connect.
It’s like the band members sat down and decided that from a marketability standpoint, they’d better abandon their sound to ride the pop-EDM wave. But it just doesn’t suit them, and feels disingenuous — not to mention blandly produced — in their hands. Computer algorithms are approaching the capability to produce an album like this, and a lack of a human touch is exactly what this album evokes.
It’s sad, really, because everyone is more or less learning that what 2017 really needs is a bit more of 2008 in it. There’s still a place for The Script’s characteristic style today — just ask Young the Giant and Bastille, who are doing just fine. It’s not that evolution of sound is wrong, but evolution into an unfamiliar space for the sake of relevance rather than artistic interest never really works.