Review: Yard Act embrace pop on their terrific 2nd album ‘Where’s My Utopia?’

“The main reason that ‘post-punk’ was the vehicle for Album One was because it was really affordable to do and affordable to tour on a minimal set up, even down to me not playing guitar to save space in the car, which is when the words really came to the fore,” Yard Act frontman James Smith said when announcing their second album. “But we always liked so much other music. I think The Overload hints at that, but this time we’ve had the confidence to embrace it.”

Embrace it they have, and Where’s My Utopia? Is brimming with confidence, ambition, wit, fun, and big hooks. As to the latter, they are not ashamed to write catchy songs which is the subject of “We Make Hits,” a meta bit of bragging, statement of intent and Yard Act origin story all in one dance floor filler. “We make hits…but not hits like Nile Rodgers,” Smith sings, knowing they probably won’t be displacing Taylor Swift on the charts, then rhyming it with “just that we ain’t hook dodgers.” Yard Act’s choruses are massive and instantaneous, and working with Gorillaz drummer and producer Remi Kabaka Jr. they’ve expanded their palette well beyond the post-punk signifiers of their debut. They’ve embraced disco (the ABBA kind), lush ’80s new wave sophisti-pop (the Wham! kind), and hip hop rhythms (the ’90s kind), while still keeping those groovy basslines and angular guitars (the Gang of Four kind).

In fact, Smith has become so dextrous with his wordplay — weaving a dense thicket of lyrical references, thoughtful observations, heartfelt sentiment and very good jokes — that he has moved beyond talky sprechgesang into what you could call “rapping” with a straight face (and a Yorkshire accent). He’s got impressive flow and a mile-a-minute delivery, examining our world of instant gratification, social media influencers, and no-hit wonders against new fatherhood and trying to figure out his band’s place in the current music landscape. Where The Overload was filled with an indie film’s worth of colorful characters, Utopia turns the lens on himself, even though he admits some of the truths he’s telling us are not so true. “I attained perfection with you,” he says to his child on the album’s sprawling penultimate track, “Blackpool Illuminations,” putting it all in perspective, “So why the fuck was I still wondering what wankers would think of Album Two?”

Where’s My Utopia? is a rare beast, an album packed with bangers that has the flow and scope of “an album”; a party record that knows not to overstay its welcome. It may even give them the chart success they’re openly dreaming of, but they’re prepared in any case. “If it’s not a hit, we were being ironic.”

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