According to the tabloid gossip columns, Ali Love was spotted making suspiciously frequent visits to the backstage toilets at the recent Lovebox festival. Something which probably wouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the candid lyrics to ‘K-Hole’, the tune which announced Love’s arrival back in 2006. Except that, in this case, Love didn’t emerge from the toilets rubbing his nostrils, but rather in the company of Mischa Barton, with whom he was allegedly regularly retiring to the romantic surroundings of the Portaloos for what the papers coyly called ‘a cheeky snog’.
Love showing off his new squeeze was also final proof that the reason we hadn’t heard much from him in the three years between ‘K Hole’ and last year’s ‘Diminishing Returns’ wasn’t because the late night lifestyle he documented on his debut single had finally caught up with him. Rather than him still slobbering away at an afterparty somewhere, the rather more prosaic reason for the delay of Love’s debut album is that he was dropped from Columbia after failing to turn initial hype into commercial success. A decision the label may well be rueing since ‘Diminishing Returns’ ended up both soundtracking Skins and in a fair few end-of-year lists. But, more to the point, it showed that there was slightly more to Love than just shaggy dog stories about getting twatted in Shoreditch; instead establishing him as a man with the potential to be the sort of ‘proper’ glamorous pop star you’d expect to see with Mischa Barton on their arm.
With Love Harder, the singer has emerged from the wilderness distinctly more sober and clean-cut. Not only have his infamous early singles been cut from the album, but he seems at pains to bury his entire druggy history as well. Indeed, you could take ‘Diminishing Returns’ as being about the disillusionment that comes from constantly chasing chemical as much as romantic highs, whilst on ‘Doing The Dirty’ he concedes that "all the time the night was calling / the late night fun and games" is a pretty poor excuse for playing away from home. In fact, rather than buzzing with excitement before hitting the clubs he sounds positively terrified by the prospect on ‘The Night’, his lyrics about "pressure in the night / now I’m panicking" balanced out by a girl cooing "You don’t need to be afraid of the night any more" in a voice as calming as the mug of Horlicks.
The ironic thing being that – musically – Love sounds like he’s trying to make exactly the sort of album you would put on whilst tarting yourself up for a night on the town. Particularly if that night out was happening sometime in the mid-Eighties. Love gorges himself on the scraps that have fallen from Chromeo and Cut Copy’s table as they’ve similarly devoured that decade. ‘Diminishing Returns’ couldn’t have sounded more Prince if it came in paisley trousers and had been given away with the very same newspaper that reported Love’s toilet trysts; but ‘Show Me’ is even more shameless. Ripping off the intro to Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, it sees Love doing Spandex-clad soft rock with a gall not heard since The Darkness. Not that you have to be tiresomely ironic to enjoy much of this album; ‘Dark Star’ being an effects-heavy disco track that sounds like it was beamed in from the Balearics circa 1987, whilst you’d really have to have a brain full of horse tranquiliser not to be sent jumping around the room by new single ‘Smoke And Mirrors’, where a bassline nabbed from George Clinton’s ‘Hydraulic Pump’ is the springboard for Love’s somersaulting vocals and colourful Catherine Wheeling synths.
Not that it’s a 100 per cent hit rate Love manages to chart up, with the title track and ‘Talk To You’ feeling slightly flat and characterless. But there’s enough here to suggest that Love merely got off to a false start rather than exhausting all his ideas years ago and – as any hardcore former caner will tell you – you need the energy for a marathon not a sprint. Unless you’re running to the bogs with Mischa Barton, that is.
7Paul Clarke's Score