Beginning with their ramshackle 2009 debut Yeah So, and then in 2011 with Paradise, Slow Club quickly found their music niche, effortlessly crafting a Technicolor world with their male/female harmonies and playful pop progressions. Too often though, the stark emotions of their tales were downplayed by clever lyrical twists, shared narrative perspectives, and lock-step vocal harmonies where the duo seemed to all but hide behind each other. It was almost like members Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson were communicating in the kind of language shared between best friends. Charming, yes, but the listener was left sitting just outside the joke.
Both a natural progression forward on the pop evolutionary scale and a quantum leap, Complete Surrender sees the Sheffield duo stripping the gimmicks and aiming for emotional accessibility. Compositions are given room to grow and stretch, augmented with both sweeps of horns and airy production work from Colin Elliot (Kylie Minogue, Richard Hawley, Paul Weller). The real power though, lies in the fact that Watson and Taylor attack their work from two very different places—creating a unique partnership that need not be presented as a unified front. Each track features a member taking the lead, the other offering lyrical, instrumental and emotional counterpoints.
Watson, the sturdier of the two, delivers a sense of contented melancholy on sparse guitar track “Paraguay And Panama.” That idea is developed even further on “Number One,” a piano ballad where Taylor offers a ghostly choral assist. But the album highlights all belong to Taylor, who delivers some of Slow Club’s biggest surprises to date. The more nuanced of the two vocalists, she’s always delivered each line with the care of a method actress, wringing emotion from each line. But on the album’s four major torch ballads—“The Queen’s Nose,” “Not Mine to Love,” “Dependable People and Things That I’m Sure Of,” and “Suffering You, Suffering Me,” she strips herself bare, belting out a string of performances that sit somewhere between the gut-wrenching verisimilitude of Lykke Li and old-school glamour of Dolly Parton. (Lazy journalists, I dare you to call this one cute.)
Watson and Taylor still communicate better than most bands or friends could hope to achieve. But they’ve finally let the listener into Slow Club’s emotional core, making the kind of songs that aren’t just meant to score feelings, but actually make the listener feel.