The Boy Least Likely To’s longed-for Law of the Playground bounces with the high spirits of the stuffed creature on the album cover. Lacking in airs and swelling with a sort of “la-la-la” syrupiness, this English indie pop duo has created a sense of childhood incorruptibility set to modern song construction.
Their first record, The Best Party Ever (2005), was lapped up by snobbish journalists like myself for its oblique sense of self-regression and apprehension. In all reality, what Pete Hobbs and Jof Owen do best is create simple, pleasant, happy pop tunes.
Examining the layering here is a little like asking a three-year-old why the colours of the balloons mesmerize him. A generally unrewarding effort, it’s also a line of questioning likely to miss the bigger picture. With Law of the Playground, the bigger picture lies in the dogged elation and positivity these songs bring.
That’s not to say that these aren’t deeply-layered tunes, however. Such is the charm of real art: things are never as clear-cut as they appear. Perhaps TBLLT is the frowning youngster who “wakes up every morning feeling sad” and we are guests at his nutty birthday party. Maybe he’s Nelson from The Simpsons. Maybe he’s Ralph Wiggum.
Regardless, the clucking banjo and twittering effects woven into these simple folk songs are well worth the toe-tapping energy it takes to listen to this record.
Here are songs not afraid to be cute – never cutesy, mind you – and defiantly joyful.
Take “When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade,” for instance. The melody sounds like it belongs on television with an egotistical plum-coloured fossil. Banjo, a drop of piano, and head-nodding rhythm complete the sound, yet it doesn’t seem like a composition insomuch as it seems like a finger-painting you’d hang on your fridge.
There is so much charm and vigor here that it’s hard to resist feeling jolly even in the deadest cerebral frost.
The horns of “The Boy With Two Hearts” advise us of a awe-inspiring yarn, as Jof Owen tells us with quiet emotion of the title character. As proudly as the horns proceed, there is reflective melancholy when Owen sings “I come apart.”
However personal and profound the deeper layers of these songs might be, one can’t help but marvel at the task before us. What can we do? What can we say? The Boy Least Likely To has created a record that dramatically shares its own upbringing. We can watch, listen, clap along, care deeply, and muse. But as these magnificent, striking songs roll by, I can’t help but feel ultimately powerless.
The happy clatter of “I Keep Myself to Myself” tells a very adult message, to be sure, yet the song’s playfulness belies a more childlike understanding of the concepts. “I am afraid of falling in love, so I keep myself to myself,” Owen sings.
Like the spellbound three-year-old content to gawk up at his balloons, there is futility to understanding why the colours bring delight. That isn’t to say that there are no reasons, of course, but perhaps it is to say that the time for wondering is later. After all, there’s plenty of time for worry and questions when we’re all grown up.