It’s the height of the 1970s, and Daisy Jones & The Six are the band of the decade — or so writes author Taylor Jenkins Reid. Titled after the rock group of her creation (and reportedly inspired by Fleetwood Mac), Amazon Prime Video’s recent television adaptation of Reid’s novel released AURORA on March 3 as a series companion. Surfacing charts and selling out stadiums in Reid’s fictional timeline, the 11-track album, sung by Daisy Jones (Riley Keough) and Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin), is an attempt to realize the band that tragically bites off more than it can chew.
While AURORA’s reputation precedes it, its tracks fizzle out and fall short of their purported magnetism. The titular track “Aurora” fails to outstrip its vapid lyrical repetitions with enough melodic interest, while swan song “No Words” rings as a tedious, guitar-wreathed attempt at self-awareness. Even the desperately soulful “Kill You to Try,” though compounding rawer vocals with loping instrumentation to construct gripping verses and a soaring bridge, veers into the musical-theater-esque production of “The Greatest Showman.”
It’s perhaps too easy to distill the album’s content down to trite love songs that funnel the writers’ emotions into simple metaphors and left-field imagery. At times swimming in clichéd platitudes (as in track two’s “Let me down easy/ If you’re gonna let me down”) and at others distressingly esoteric (take, for example, the line “I took a topple from that day/ And gathered in a ball beneath the sea” from “You Were Gone”), AURORA fights to spotlight a unified artistic voice. Even so, it marginally improves on Reid’s prosaic source material, adjusting the author’s lyrics to more appropriately suit the poetic tastes of the album’s fictional songwriters.
AURORA’s tenuous concoction of splintered sound perhaps boils down to its precariously mobilized musical basics: Worn down by hackneyed major-third harmonies, the songs are hardly offered sonic finesse by awkward lyrical rhythms and unresolved melodic lines. The album turns the most heads when it digresses from its monotonous formulas, but struggles to do so, exhibiting only the occasional guitar-crackle or stray synth-tinkle in areas that necessitate far more galvanism.
Despite these caveats, the record isn’t irreparably stripped of aural charm. “More Fun to Miss” intermixes a high-octane chorus with Keough’s guttural vocals, leaning into raring guitar sputters and a rocking, swing-beaten melody. Here, the production raises the stakes, flaring out echoes and fuzzifying its instrumental clamor to load the track with rhapsodic gravity. Meanwhile, “Regret Me,” with its tumbling grungelike riffs slotted between the singers’ stratospheric belts and ethereal interlude, intuitively ups the ante precisely where the album calls for explosivity.
Yet, in the end, it’s not the record’s fictitious hit lead single, title track or poignant ballad that ultimately elevates its would-be subpar status — rather, it’s the sweepingly vortical “The River.” Jilting the strained harmonies that characterize the album’s majority for a seamless unison line, the vocalists’ folklorish intrigue tempers the electric guitar’s voltaic growl, stoking the fires of the song’s atmospheric yearning. In the landscape of its electrically kinetic bridge, Keough expels the inhibitions of Jones’ somewhat restrained depiction, finally embodying the elusive panache of the book’s original character.
Indeed, the album’s intertwining lead voices manage to churn out enthralling performances in defiance of the pitfalls in its writing and production. In particular, Claflin’s skyrocketing voice careens spaceward in “Please,” while Keough’s vulnerability-mantled croons in “Two Against Three” are heartrendingly tender. Yet, even with the former’s earnest dedication and the latter’s vocal allure, a little falsetto here and a little warble there are hard-pressed to salvage the album from its forgettable banalities. Amazon Prime’s Daisy Jones & The Six aren’t so much a riff off of Fleetwood Mac as they are, at best, a hazy approximation of the rock-band legend.
Reid wrote in the original “Daisy Jones & The Six” novel that “confidence is being okay being bad” — a superficial simplification that nevertheless defines the album in full scope. So what if AURORA lags in more areas than one? If listeners suspend their disbelief and relabel its mediocrity-driven assuredness as confidence, perhaps it’s just enough to compensate.