LANY has long been a staple of indie pop. After rising to fame with its hit “ILYSB” in 2014, the band landed two albums — LANY (2017) and Malibu Nights (2018) — in the Billboard Top 40. Released Oct. 2, LANY’s latest work Mama’s Boy shifts away from contemporary heartbreak anthems to instead paint sunsets of familial love.
Lovesick grief is the nucleus of the band’s past works, and while this sorrow does bleed into Mama’s Boy, childhood and nostalgia live at the album’s epicenter. Largely inspired by lead singer Paul Klein’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the album draws on a neon, dusty Southern aesthetic. Filled with softer, more down-to-earth songs, Mama’s Boy marks a significant shift in the band’s approach to its music.
Unfortunately, LANY’s attempt to establish a new era leaves behind the vibrancy the band is so well known for. While LANY feels like a long, scenic drive along the coast and Malibu Nights a moonlit night at the beach, Mama’s Boy feels like a dull flight from Los Angeles to Tulsa. While Mama’s Boy is twinged with a gentle nostalgia that can be refreshing at times, it’s rarely thrilling.
In too many of the songs, Klein sounds uncharacteristically apathetic and weary. Combined with utterly generic lyricism, this is an especially glaring disservice to the titular exclamation point in “You!” in which he sings “You’re the light in the dark/ You’re the arrow through my heart.”
Klein comes across as almost whiny at the album’s lowest points. Intended as a sequel to the band’s hit “Good Girls,” the single “Good Guys” portrays a neglected Klein pining over someone who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings: “I just wanna give you everythin’/ Show you I’m a Southern gentleman/ All I wanna do is let you in/ But good guys, good guys never win.” This somewhat narcissistic persona also carries into “Cowboy in LA,” in which Klein sings that he’ll “hold your hand, I’ll hold the door/ ‘Cause that’s how I was raised” and compares himself to Los Angeles boys that “all look and talk the same.” This “good guy” persona strikes listeners as more self-pitying than selfless, and its toxic nature detracts from the nostalgic heart of Mama’s Boy.
Some songs, thankfully, feel more natural and loosely adhere to the album’s theme of reminiscence. Uplifted by transcendent guitar riffs at its bridge, “If This Is the Last Time” is both an apology and a heartfelt vessel of gratitude. It’s an emotional nod to the band’s past track “Parents,” a minute-long, heartwarming voicemail from the mother of LANY’s drummer, Jake Goss. On Mama’s Boy, “If This Is the Last Time” is the appreciative call back.
The album’s second half conserves these sentimental elements while successfully expanding its scope, reminding listeners of LANY’s captivating storytelling. “Heart Won’t Let Me,” “Sharing You” and “Anything 4 U” feature familiar elements of the band’s signature, emotional songwriting and lush production. “Bad News” is a creative twist on the bad boy archetype, pulling listeners in immediately with feisty synths and formulaic lyrics. Elsewhere, soft guitar chords trickle in the background of the calming ballad “Nobody Else.”
Mama’s Boy gradually gains traction as it goes on. The song “Sad” fantastically balances conflicting feelings of desire, jealousy and grief, and it maintains profound momentum with a resonant chorus that ends with the heartbreaking “wish that I could make you sad.” Later, the chorus of “(What I Wish Just One Person Would Say To Me)” ends with “I’m happy for you,” and this progression alone is a saving grace for Mama’s Boy. It’s a lovely juxtaposition that suggests growth in a meaningful way.
It’s disappointing, however, that this growth isn’t consistent. With scenes of “square dancing under the moon” and going “from the club straight to the church,” this distracting motif often feels like a desperate attempt to stand out in the indie scene. Mama’s Boy is ultimately a fumbled homage to Klein’s hometown, overstuffed with Southern imagery that exists only to adhere to a forced theme. In Mama’s Boy, LANY returns home but simultaneously ventures into new territory a tad too far.