It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, with their fifth studio album, British rock band Band of Skulls certainly seem to have their hearts in the right place. Love Is All You Love is meant to stand as an "anti-war cry for our turbulent times," according to the band: “All the energy we spend fighting amongst ourselves can be used to do something positive, something real. So don’t forget to go out, to fall in love and to feel alive.” And so it’s all the more disappointing that their efforts were, unfortunately, in vain. Along with the aid of famed synthpop producer Richard X, Band of Skulls have forged a plastic, generic album that amounts to little more than the pretentious sentiment which birthed it.
Love Is All You Love is a bit of a departure for Band of Skulls. In an attempt to reinvent their established sound, Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson are pulling from a new stable of muses. Always one to wear their influences on their sleeves, the band is quick to cite their sources, as with the influence of late 90s metal found on dreamy, bass-heavy club track "Carnivorous," the accusatory, roaring motorcycle rock of "That's My Trouble," the bouncy, hip-hop-esque flow of "Love Is All You Love," or the funky affectation of album closer "Gold." Still, it never feels remotely natural. They slip into the trappings of the genre as if they were trying on a Halloween costume. The only time the band appears truly at home is when they’re churning out passable, radio-friendly pop rock like "Cool Your Battles."
There’s the occasional glimmer of hope on the record, often when it takes a minute to breathe and recalibrate, as with “Sound of You,” a stripped down moment of introspection that thrusts Emma Richardson into the spotlight. However, just as soon as Love Is All You Love begins to spread its wings, it quickly reverts back to stiff album fare with flimsy hooks. Although they are presented in a shroud of prominent confidence, tracks like punky call and response "Not the Kind of Nothing I Know" and industrial, pseudo-affirmational "Thanks a Lot" leave as quickly as they came, leaving little impression whatsoever. There’s virtually no stamp of personality to be found on these faceless tunes that could have been released by any number of indistinguishable acts. The repetitive chorus of bubbly electropop track "We're Alive" urges us to join in with them (“Come on, come on”), but they never make an alluring argument for why the audience would opt to climb aboard.
Maybe Band of Skulls have always been this grating. Or perhaps we’re just wise to their schtick after five albums of diminishing returns. Love Is All You Love claims to be a reawakening, but in reality, it feels as though it were constructed by a neat algorithm to neither entice nor offend. It may as well have been specifically designed for airplay exclusively in department stores. We’re left with a dull, lifeless carbon copy of music that wasn’t all that compelling to begin with. More than a decade into their career, Band of Skulls are very much still finding their footing. Until they secure it, their sound will continue to be almost entirely devoid of discernable identity.