If the album artwork for Melbourne indie rockers Oh Mercy’s new album When We Talk About Love is anything to go by, it’s a 12-track trip exploring love in the suburbs.
The nostalgic painting by American artist Harry Underwood depicts a couple embracing in a garden, a pastel blend of pinks and greens (see here). Slightly forlorn, a little bit surreal, but completely romantic could easily describe the album, with frontman and songwriter Alex Gow admitting the record is his most personal to date: “When We Talk About Love was forged in a time of life when love was recognised, love was squandered and now, love remains unrequited”.
Traversing influences as varied as Burt Bacharach, Leonard Cohen and The Triffids, Gow spent time writing in Portland, Nashville and New York. He duly returned home to record at Grove Studios on the picturesque NSW Central Coast with producer Scott Horscroft (Silverchair, Birds Of Tokyo, The Presets, Sleepy Jackson), and thus, the album was born.
When We Talk About Love kicks off with ‘Without You’. It opens with a string arrangement quickly grounded by Gow’s Bob Dylan-esque vocals. He croons “I guess I’m stuck with lady luck but she don’t remember my name”, and we know are dropped smack bang in the middle of a melancholic memory.
‘I Don’t Really Want to Know’ features a languid chorus refrain complemented by a breezy, summer vibe riff. It’s all about missing out on making love and having fun, bleeding perfectly into the hit ‘Sandy’ – an 80s-inspired subtle synth beat. It’s dreamy, desperate and demure, with yes, just a hint of Grease. ‘Lady Eucalyptus’ sees Gow drift over a stripped-back score. The Australiana connotations of the title are no where to be found in the verses, as the song becomes another wistful lullaby.
‘If You Come Around Tonight’ picks up the pace again, pitting Gow’s old-school rocker vocals over a gentle guitar riff and drum beat, pulling you gently into his repetitive propositioning plea. ‘Iron Cross’ – the b-side to hit ‘Sandy’ – 80s swell and piano score. “It bears heavy on you now, oh whose your heart pounding for, deep within your chest?” cuts through an orchestral soar, as Gow seduces in the piano pounding chorus, asking “Can he touch you with a warm hand? I can, I am a man”.
In ‘All Roads Lead To You’, a head-bopping drumbeat and strum stroke backbone lifts the romantic ode above the obsessive songwriting. ‘I Believe It’ is a darker dip for a lovesick Gow as he contemplates loneliness and being without love, which carries on into ‘Cant You Hear My Body (Calling Out To You)’. Self explanatory really.
‘Cool Water’ is literally that, Gow waking up to himself. A splash of shock, Gow considers his “melancholic way”. Closer ‘Catherine’ is not the catharsis you’d expect at the end of an album, but a lingering sense of longing and bitterness. Lyrics like “I’d kill a man, to make love with you again” are self-explanatory, as Gow ponders moving on.
When We Talk About Love conjures up wistful memories of fleeting summer holiday romances, juxtaposed with a nippy Melbourne Winter release. It’s breezy, romantic, layered and personal. The album may have been written in a far away country, but at its core, it’s about something much closer to home.
When We Talk About Love is out now via EMI Music Australia.