If “mature twee pop” is a thing and not just an oxymoron, Recreational Love is it. Los Angeles’ the Bird and the Bee are back at it five years after releasing their last album (which was a Hall and Oates cover album, by the way.) The duo has had a lot going on, from their other musical projects (multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin produces albums for many other well-known acts, while singer Inara George also sings in Living Sisters,) leaving their label, and raising their families. In fact, the pair had to schedule a regular Friday morning session in which to work on Recreational Love, their latest 10-song LP. The result of those weekly sessions is a fun, danceable, retro-inspired album with a lot of similarities to Lily Allen (whom the band has toured with and for whom Kurstin produced.)
For a band that has to get babysitters to play gigs, the Bird and the Bee is able to put out a fun, bubbly album with grown-up lyrics. Even while singing about locking up the house for the night or punctuality, the songs still have a youthful feel thanks to the lightweight, bubbly synth. “Young and Dumb,” one of the catchiest songs on the album, is a retrospective on an immature ex who fulfills everyone’s expectations by failing hard. “Lovey Dovey” has a different sound from the rest of the album, it could be a cover of an old standard. Its sweet lyrics are about a couple, kept apart by daily life’s stresses, finally getting to spend an evening alone together… once they close up the house for the night and decide whether to let the cat inside or not. This is pretty steamy stuff for a long-term cohabiting couple because, as we learned from Flight of the Conchords, sorting recycling is all part of the foreplay. Jokes aside, it is a really sweet, old-timey song. There is a shift in characters for some of the songs: “Runaway” features a self-assured narrator going after her loverboy with determination. While the attitude is neat, the chorus is so repetitive that you could sing along to it before you’ve even made it through your first listen of the song. There are a lot of repeated lyrics throughout the album, but if you can ignore that you hear the same line of the chorus repeated ad naseum, the verses have some decent content.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a retro feel to many of the songs. “Lovey Dovey” has a ‘70s sound with its echoes and synth. The title track, “Recreational Love,” reminds me of the SNL Digital Short featuring Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Andy Samberg singing about a three-way. “Los Angeles,” a love song that seems to be half-directed at a person, half-directed at the city, brings to mind images of bringing your date home in a DeLorean so that you can continue the evening in the jacuzzi in full ‘80s glory… you know, until George switches to singing directly to Los Angeles and tells her to ignore the haters because they don’t understand the city like she does. George channels Debbie Harry on “Runaway” with an attitude that isn’t present in her sweet vocals on the other tracks. “We’re Coming to You” has a different sound from much of the album, too, though it keeps that consistent synth heard throughout. It’s just much more space-y and slow, as if you’re floating around in a spacesuit looking for signs of extraterrestrial life. “Doctor” is pretty great, it’s so ‘80s that it’s almost a guilty pleasure. Noted funk saxophonist Karl Denson plays on the track, plus there’s funky guitar, that deliciously ’80s whip-like percussion sound, and plinking synth. Add in George’s sugary sweet voice layered into backing and lead vocals and you have the best song on the album. “Young and Dumb” is very catchy pop song, but loses me when Kurstin just starts free styling on the piano, jazz-style, and George adds some weird vocal noises. The songs are upbeat without being too bubbly or frothy, it’s a nice mix that keeps the album from becoming annoying.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about this album, but it is fun. George’s sweet, clear voice fits well over Kurstin’s synth. It’s easy to see how the Bird and the Bee have been included on so many movie soundtracks and in TV show episodes (this includes Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Sex and the City;) this album could likely spawn more. It’s catchy and has a happy sound, but doesn’t carry too much weight.