Back in 2006, Hellogoodbye released their debut album Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!, a weird little alt-pop album that really didn’t fit in with anything else at the time, mostly because it, along with the videos released for singles like Here (In Your Arms) and Baby It’s Fact projected mainman Forrest Kline as the total antithesis of a rockstar. The music followed suit as well, with quirky, nerdy indie-pop cuts that could be faintly embarrassing to listen to at the best of times. But fast forward over a decade to now, and Hellogoodbye are currently in the middle of more talk than ever before after their total reinvention for this album, with its early singles bringing onboard strong funk and disco influences that are so well implemented. Even if Kline still isn’t a huge presence behind the microphone, there’s such a remarkable sense of personality in those tracks that, if S’Only Natural as a whole can follow suit, Hellogoodbye’s supreme glow-up could be one of the big surprise wins of 2018.
Except it’s not, and considering what this album was set up as, that’s incredibly disappointing. Even in its first portion, it’s presented as the classy, brandy-sipping funk album it was originally made out to be, but that’s not the entire story, with Hellogoodbye proceeding to split the difference between various permutations of modern indie-pop and Burt Bacharach-esque easy-listening. And for the most part, they can do that rather well; there’s a precision and poise in the arrangement that doesn’t have that sense of class diminish, and moments like Honeymoon with its soft strings and fluttering horn interlude can sound downright beautiful (even if it does owe a lot to the Carpenters’ Close To You at points). But then there’s the skittering indie-pop shuffle of Put It Out which feels like any number of modern, B-tier chancers over refined classic pop, or the watery indie-folk of Mysterious Me, Mysterious You, and it’s here where the whole constructive focal point of the album – that being a quiet, precision-crafted smoothness – completely falls apart. There’s no tightness here, and considering that Kline spends pretty much all of this album in a whisper, these moments deftly skirt around any sort of sensuality to become simple filler with no presence on the tracklist.
When Hellogoodbye can utilise these skills properly, though, that’s a different story, and all intentions that S’Only Natural originally had of that subtle, quiet storm momentum come surging back. Of course, the title track and Let It Burn reign supreme here with taut, nimble basslines standing chief among watery strings and the slightest sprinklings of guitar, but even the slow jams like I’ll Keep Following You and the previously unconvincing Close swell with steaminess and passion, something that would’ve seemed like a fool’s errand for Hellogoodbye to even conceive a decade ago. And that’s perhaps where S’Only Natural’s biggest strength lies, in just how much it’s able to subvert all expectations of what this band can achieve and become great from them, even in just isolated moments. The best moments here stand head and shoulders above anything that Hellogoodbye have ever done in just how sharply constructed and well-produced they are, and while lyrical depth has never been at the forefront of this band’s creative process, for the sort of classic pop and disco that this album draws from, it’s less necessary than ever, and thus a lot easier to overlook. Even if it can’t maintain it all the way through, there are moments of greatness on this album that can’t be ignored.
It’s just a shame they can’t keep it up, because otherwise, S’Only Natural could’ve been the sleeper hit of the year for how unashamedly, uncool-y cool it is. In pieces, there are moments of real excellence that Hellogoodbye deserve enormous praise for, especially considering how much this deviates from their roots, but the fact that it’s so inconsistent, both in execution and quality, is a serious knock-back. Still, that evolution is enough to edge out a pass, but it could’ve been so much more, and ignore that only denigrates further the efforts made on this album.
For fans of: Burt Bacharach, Carpenters, Andy Williams
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘S’Only Natural’ by Hellogoodbye is released on 5th October on Alcopop! Records.