Clean Bandit’s What is Love? explores titular theme in depth

Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer


Clean Bandit’s newest album What Is Love? is part concept album and part hit singles anthology, but completely entertaining for the listener nonetheless.

Clean Bandit is a group of producers whose style can best be summed up as the Chainsmokers with some classical music thrown in. Of course, just like the Chainsmokers, the group has created catchy single after catchy single with songs like “Rather Be,” “Rockabye” and “Solo” as part of their singles portfolio.

As their second venture into the album making side of the music industry they have quite a bit to prove in order not to be considered a pop-singles machine. With What Is Love?, they attempt to venture outside of their comfort zone by offering multiple perspectives on what love is.

In a way, the group plays to their strengths by bringing in a wide swath of artists from KYLE to Charlie XCX to Ellie Goulding. Each artist they bring in is responsible for their own lyrics while the producers, obviously, do what they do best and create the music behind the vocals.

These different definitions of love play out from track to track and can vary widely. For example, “Out at Night” featuring KYLE and Big Boi discusses self-love with lyrics like, ”Watching the clock on the wall, yeah/Watching the city go dark/Goes home and takes it all off, yeah/Putting that eyeliner on/He does it so well/As soon as he walks out the door/Turns into someone else.” In this section KYLE and Big Boi discuss a form of self-love in which the person embraces themselves regardless of what others feel toward them.

Conversely, “24 Hours” featuring Yasmin Green is about an intense, in-the-moment love that one experiences in a cliché love-at-first-sight situation. The chorus for this song is perhaps the most clear-cut reference to an immediate and passion-based love; “24 hours ago/Baby I didn’t know that I can’t live without you/I wasn’t looking for this/Never thought that one kiss, could change all that I know/24 hours ago.” By offering different perspectives, it works to answer the question that the album imposes with its title: What Is Love?

To further the diversity of ideas and to provide more evidence that love is not a concrete concept on the track “Nowhere” featuring Rita Ora and KYLE the group helps to define love by identifying what it is not. This topic can be seen most clearly in the chorus: “Why do I follow/When you lead me nowhere?/You take the dark road/And baby, I go there/There’s a part of me/Somewhere deep/Down that still believes/That’s why I follow/When you lead me nowhere.” In this way, the album works multiple angles to answer the question the record poses in its title.

The strength of this album is that so often in pop music love is defined very rigidly, but this offers an alternative to the idea that love is just one thing. Still, that does not mean the group proves any point that they are an album band.

By allowing each song to contain a separate storyline independent of the others, the group is still producing one-off tracks without a clear eye for the complete album, which in and of itself weakens their venture into the album side of the music industry. Yet, Clean Bandit has gotten away from the singles powerhouse they are known as with this album.

Overall, this album is an enjoyable listen, but by no means a particularly meaningful one. The ideas here aren’t well constructed or thought-provoking, but they are relatable to almost anybody since everyone has a definition of love.