REAL ESTATE The Main Thing gets 5.5/10

Real Estate

The Main Thing


Real Estate have broken big over the last few years, their chill jangle pop sound now at the forefront of mainstream alternative rock. Latest effort The Main Thing is as squeaky clean as expected, but sees the band more toothless than ever.

This is a perfectly acceptable album on the face of it, with all requisite pieces in place. The guitars chime like they need to and occasionally throw out a riff. Frontman Martin Courtney’s vocals are as plaintive and echoey as ever, and each song has a melodic phrase or two that it repeats enough times to meet requirements.

Unfortunately, the whole is certainly not the greater of its parts, as they come together to form a series of tedious tunes. The two strongest contributions are the singles: The Main Thing has a genuinely catchy chorus, while Paper Cup (featuring Grammy nominated synth-pop outfit Sylvan Esso) is a meticulously constructed pop rock number edging closer to disco than we’ve heard from Real Estate previously, that should get some decent airplay. With its more overt instrumentation such as string stabs and an overdriven guitar riff, it’s the biggest statement on the album.

Of the deep cuts, memorable moments are slim pickings. Shallow Sun has some cool instrumentation, even if the sad/happy dynamic between verse and chorus is unconvincing. Silent World is effective, with a propulsive rhythm and build accentuated with a few tasty snatches of slide guitar.

The rest of the songs feel barely there. The lazy and underwritten vocal melodies are the biggest culprit, hardly extending beyond a verse on several tracks. The instrumentation doesn’t help, too intentionally unobtrusive and middle-of-the-road to save these songs. Opener Friday for instance has a smooth bassline that recalls Moon Safari era Air, but the band doesn’t commit to it strongly enough and, when paired with its simple and repetitive vocal melody, the tune achieves nothing across its five minutes. Likewise, Also A But has a looping guitar riff that has potential, but is squandered on a song that goes nowhere. Gone is minimalist and lazy, with repetitive verses and a flaccid instrumental break that dissipates in seconds. You, November and Falling Down are similar by-the-numbers tracks, the latter particularly frustrating given its weak whispery vocal and lack of atmosphere. It’s unclear whether the track is meant to be positive or wistful. Instead, it just sounds sterile.

This is a disappointing album by a band that is resting on its laurels. On 2014’s Atlas, Real Estate managed to deliver a solid set of atmospheric tracks with hooks to spare. Unfortunately they’ve retained the mood but not the substance, leaving us with an album of indie elevator music.