In the first season of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw dates a milquetoast man named Sean who seems nice enough, but isn’t quite her type. He is, in fact, the Marrying Guy, the kind of man who is ready to settle down with his unspecified beloved and pop out a few progeny before retiring to some place like Florida, or Maine if they’re feeling outdoorsy. Carrie, in one of her infamous voiceovers, declares that he’s “like the flesh and blood equivalent of a DKNY dress. You know it’s not your style, but it’s right there, so you try it on anyway.” Unsurprisingly, our flighty heroine dumps him quickly and passes the nuptial nerd off to prudish Charlotte who—no shit—ditches Sean because they don’t like the same china patterns.
Why did I just summarize an episode of SATC for you? Besides it being a beautiful time capsule of late nineties culture, this vignette also serves as a fitting metaphor for London three-piece Girl Ray’s sophomore album. The band entered triumphantly on their 2017 debut Earl Grey, a cozy mixture of Beach Boy-esque harmonies and some truly inspired songwriting. They felt fully formed and wise beyond their years, no doubt because of their ’60s-imbued sound. Now, they’ve delved into synthy, R&B-inflected pop on Girl, taking a cue from the likes of Ariana Grande and Spotify’s pop-heavy top playlists. When in doubt, listen to the algorithm.
Girl is their Sean. It is not their Mister Big, or even their Aidan. Thankfully, Girl proves more engaging than Sean, who was duller than Carrie’s vapid prose. He looked like How I Met Your Mother’s Ted Mosby, but somehow more dweeby. Girl is not dweeby; the tracks are actually very, very sexy‚—much more so than anything on Earl Grey—but something still feels off.
The album starts with its two best tracks: lemony opener “Girl” and tropical bop “Show Me More.” Their inimitable harmonies are showcased on the former alongside bouncy synth and summery guitar, a refreshing combination of their signature sound and a slightly new direction. According to Poppy Hankin, Iris McConnell and Sophie Moss, “Show Me More” is about “crushing really hard but having to play the long game and wait it out because your boo is playing savage games. It’s your classic pop banger. Steamy dance floor. Drinks on me.” You certainly get those vibes, and can practically taste the overpriced rum cocktail on your tongue as they sing about their elusive crush. These two songs show what the LP could have been: the little sister to La Roux’s Trouble in Paradise, with some Pet Sounds thrown in here and there for good measure. Later on “Because,” they make a sly reference to the Beatles song of the same name, harkening back to the era that originally influenced their style.
But then we have the rest of Girl, which often suffers from the addition of unnecessary sounds. “Keep It Tight” is the worst offender here, giving the impression that Girl Ray tried to employ every sound bank on their keyboard, rendering the song scattered. The layers of synths and other effects lead to oversaturation rather than the richness that marked their earlier efforts, like the 13-minute Earl Grey highlight “Stuck in a Groove,” which shone with sublime clarity through a bevy of instruments, from trumpet to tamborine. “Friend Like That” similarly drags under a heavy (though not quite as egregious) load of effects after a promising, more pared back beginning. Girl Ray’s earthy, rich voices don’t need to be bogged down under instruments galore. Occasionally the lyrics on Girl also disappoint, like the chorus of “Takes Time,” in which the band members sing, “Go ahead call me mama / And you be my baby.” The line is so inane that feels ripped from one of the top 40 singles that purportedly inspired Girl Ray’s switch in style.
Despite the pitfalls of Girl, the group do show an openness to experimentation that is far more promising than if they had just released a watered-down version of Earl Grey. But a more pop-focused sound doesn’t do them any favors either, and they don’t quite stick the landing.