It’s been just shy of three years since the Sydney, Australian indie pop/rock trio Middle Kids released their well-received debut, Lost Friends. Their follow-up full length, Today We’re the Greatest, finds singer/guitarist Hannah Joy, her husband, bassist Tim Fitz, and drummer Harry Day delivering a dozen songs that range from placid acoustic folk to all-out rockers. A mix of tracks this eclectic would be tough for any band to sequence, and Middle Kids are no exception as Today We’re the Greatest’s back six prove to be a much more cohesive listen than the record’s first half.
The acoustic number “Bad Neighbors” starts things off in a distinctly downbeat mood. Although the ballad is lovely musically, the song is way, way too much too soon. “The pain is like a rope around my hands, you’d understand if you’d been hurt like I was, if you’d had bad neighbors,” Joy sings somberly. One envisions first-time Middle Kids listeners reaching for their antidepressants. “Cellophane (Brain)” attempts to pull the band out from the rut worn by its predecessor with a rousing chorus, but it does little to help and only ends up emphasizing the awkward sequencing choice. The album’s first single, “R U 4 Me”, is up next and, with its freewheeling choruses and Joy’s sporadic laughter, feels like the album’s rightful entry point. The percussion-less “Golden Star”, although a fine showcase for Hannah Joy’s gorgeous vocals, mercifully ends Today We’re the Greatest’s mishmash of a first side.
Side B opens with “Summer Hill”, a slow-builder of a song that utilizes some lovely backing synths, though it does feel a tad reverb-heavy, and the track’s second half suffers from overproduction. The pair of songs that follow, “Some People Stay in Our Hearts Forever” and “Run with You”, work well back-to-back by sharing a similar tempo and emotive dynamic. Both tracks set things up nicely for Today We’re the Greatest’s strongest moment, “I Don’t Care”. Here, Middle Kids are firing on all cylinders as the trio rip into an anthemic chorus that has Joy repeating, “I don’t fucking care, I gotta do what I want to!”
For as much of a hodgepodge as Middle Kids’ sophomore album can be, it does provide a satisfying ending. Today We’re the Greatest’s title track begins inconspicuously as a piano ballad and grows, chorus upon chorus, to include drums and guitar, ultimately ending with Joy repeating, “Life is gory and boring sometimes,” over her own vocals echoing out the song’s title. Second albums can be difficult, and although Today We’re the Greatest seemed to have enough standout moments to make an album that warranted repeat listens, it wouldn’t have been without the omission of at least a couple songs in addition to a much-needed track order changeup.