When they’re good, self-titled albums are either dignified statements of sonic ambition delivered right off the bat (see: Rush, Violent Femmes, or Red Hot Chili Peppers) or mid-career markers of striking artistic evolution (like Beyoncé’s industry-shaking 2013 LP). That said, eponymous releases — especially when they’re not debuts — are more often bad news, suggesting a creative bankruptcy that indicates a band is hoping to buy itself some time by coasting by on name recognition.
In going the self-titled route for what’s just its third full-length, California five-piece the Neighbourhood at least deserves some credit for being so upfront about running out of ideas. “Every day, you want me to make something I hate, all for your sake,” sings frontman Jesse Rutherford on the album’s very first chorus; the following song, Twenty One Pilots-indebted “Flowers,” introduces something of a motif across the disc in which Rutherford romanticizes the very concept of banality, dubbing himself a fake and a rip-off while lyrically probing an existential emptiness that he seems to blame on those demanding he create in the first place.
Such angsty, self-effacing territory isn’t new to the Neighbourhood, which has been committed to mainstreaming its goth-R&B niche since its first full-length, “I Love You.,” in 2013. Follow-up “Wiped Out!” (2015) learned the wrong lessons from the first disc’s big hit “Sweater Weather,” mostly washing out that track’s restless energy in favor of pretentious, shadow-soaked meditations.
“The Neighbourhood,” unfortunately, continues this progression; its songs are usually overcast affairs, painstakingly drained of color so as to mirror the band’s ongoing fascination with black-and-white (to wit, they request photographers who shoot them not do so in color). Lyrically, the tracks are stormy and depressive, built around those ideas of emptiness and discontent but done so without detail or texture. “I need you to feel alive/I need you to fill a void,” Rutherford pleads in one particularly grating track, named “Void”; elsewhere, on “Too Serious,” he explains, “I’m way too serious, but I’ve always been that way.”
Very occasionally, the broadness can be to the Neighbourhood’s benefit, like on the more engaging, concert-ready sing-alongs (uptempo “Scary Love,” Weeknd soundalike “Reflections”), but it mostly serves to render the band’s songs both sophomoric and soporific, an added shame given how effectively their instrumentation can evoke images of LA by night, waves crashing on twilit beaches, and cars cruising along darkened freeways. The only time the Neighbourhood really comes to life here is on the disc’s final track, refreshingly summery toe-tapper “Stuck With You.” That track aside, this release will do little to convince critics that the Neighbourhood is anything more than Maroon 5’s monochromatic photo negative, and about as intriguing as that descriptor suggests.Isaac Feldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.