Romantic melodrama, but not really

Stephen McBean has claimed that Outside Love, his latest album under the Pink Mountaintops moniker, sounds like a Danielle Steel romance novel set to music. But I’m not sure I entirely agree. Sure, the album is sexy and dramatic–just take the opening track, “Axis: Thrones of Love,” an anthemic fuzz rocker with gorgeous boy-girl vocals and a chorus of “How deep is your love?” (Deep? Oh, I get it.)

But the reason the Danielle Steel comparison doesn’t quite jive with me is that there is nothing tacky or trite about Outside Love. Rather, it’s a heartfelt album, full of poignant ballads and noisy, propulsive rock. “Holiday” is one of the sweetest and most heartfelt songs of the year so far, an uncharacteristically poppy waltz-time strum-along, with a refrain of “Everyone I love deserves a holiday.”

I guess what I’m really try to say is that Danielle Steel novels suck, and this doesn’t. At all. Outside Love plays like one extended payoff, and any one of the ten songs here could have had a similar impact if taken out of the context of the album. Even “Vampire,” which initially seems like a plesantly innocuous mid-tempo campfire song, explodes in its final minute, with a breathtaking outro of group-sung vocals. And unlike previous Pink Mountaintops albums, which sounded like scuzzy bedroom recordings, Outside Love is beautifully produced–I don’t recall ever hearing a piano sound as deep and heavy as on “Axis: Thrones of Love,” nor harmonies as lush as on “Close to Heaven.”

mp3: “Vampire”

It’s as good as any album McBean has ever made, including even In the Future (his 2008 album with Black Mountain). Outside Love has greater sonic and stylistic diversity than ever before–”And I Thank You” is southern-fried country (the backup vocalist could almost pass for Loretta Lynn), while “The Gayest of Sunrises” is feedback-laden punk. The only apparent weakness is that ill-fitting Danielle Steele comparison. It sure does make for a memorable album cover though.

Outside Love is out now via Jagjaguwar. As of this posting, the entire album is streaming at Pink Mountaintops’ MySpace.
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