Album Review: PVRIS – Use Me (2020)

It was the album which almost never happened. Preceded by the critically acclaimed EP Hallucinations (2019), which in itself included new arrangements to better suit singer Lynn Gunn’s voice following the discovery of two auto-immune problems, ‘Use Me’s release was delayed twice by a global pandemic and the meed to promote more important things (i.e. justice for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter), before the band was rocked less than two days before the release of their third LP by the removal of founding member Alex Babinski for sexual assault allegations – it feels like nothing but pure determination got this album out into the world.

It is not for me to discuss the allegations surrounding Babinski – there is very little in the public sphere about what supposedly happened involving underage fans – and indeed, to do so at any length in a review of the album would take away from the incredible work which Gunn and her remaining co-member Brian MacDonald have done. And, we knew from the music which has been released to us over the past year, that this album would be special.

It came as a surprise to me that there were only six previously unreleased songs on the album when it dropped on Thursday night – incorporating the two lead singles and the best three tracks from the ‘Hallucinations EP’. Admittedly, the five songs we already knew are five of the best from the last year, but it does seem somewhat… underwhelming… that we’ve waited excitedly for almost five months for essentially a EP (deluxe edition).

Opening up are the two album-specific lead singles, teased throughout the early months of 2020. Thematically, ‘Gimme A Minute’ seems to consider the position of someone recovering from severe lows in mental health – thinking they’ve got beyond the bad points, and then realising that the road to recovery is not a straight. It represents an increasing move away from rock for the band for something closer to punk-tinged synth-pop. The chorus showed up in my dreams several times this summer – perhaps that shows the extent of how it impacted me. ‘Dead Weight’ is a similarly punchy track detailing the pressures of having to hold something together despite everything trying to tear it apart – while this could be a metaphor for a relationship, or indeed Gunn’s own musical career – it seems quite fitting for this album cycle as a whole. The music video for this track is certainly a sight to behold – since then, I’ve associated this band with the colour red, despite all of their releases being artistically characterised by black and white.

These are followed by ‘Stay Gold’ and ‘Good To Be Alive’, two seemingly more bleakly optimistic tracks which bridge the gap between the punchy and more brooding sides of their previous creations. They’re okay, but when sandwiched between ‘Dead Weight’ and ‘Death Of Me’ they get lost. There follows a trilogy of songs from the Hallucinations EP – ‘Death Of Me’, ‘Hallucinations’ and ‘Old Wounds’. The last one of the three is my favourite of the album: it also feels a bit of a reminder of older sounds from All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell’ – especially ‘What’s Wrong’, the song which got me into the band at the very start of 2019. A brooding, at times melodramatic, emotional and cold five-minute saga, it details the longing of someone in your past who, in different circumstances, you believe that you would have been able to be incredible with. Honestly, I can relate to that. It’s about a love that never dies – no matter what you do, it will always be there, no matter how painful, you will still have that feeling. It’s deep, but it’s powerful songwriting.

It seems to herald a change in the tone of the album. ‘Loveless’ is a suitably acoustic track, which is extremely soothing to listen to. It would have been wrong to place a banger straight after track seven. ‘January Rain’ follows a similar trend – although when I listened to this the first time, it seemed to me as if the album was starting to get trapped in self-absorbed wallowing, which I had not been expecting. The title track, ‘Use Me’, is the penultimate track, which I believe is not the original version. It contains PVRIS’ first lead collaboration – with experimental rapper 070 Shake – but unlike other bands who have experimented with rap, it seems to fit quite well with their style. This may be my favourite of the non-singles. The final song, ‘Wish You Well’, contains a bouncy bassline and some rousing vocalising from Gunn – but fails to give the album a showstopping finale.

Created and released in exceptionally testing times for the band, perhaps it’s a miracle that we got it at all. I love that Lynn Gunn is finally getting the confidence to take the credit for being the creative force behind the band, and appreciate the strong personal meanings behind many of the tracks on this album. But beyond the five singles, ‘Use Me’ seriously lacks depth, and isn’t the most interesting. All in all, it’s extremely hit and miss – but if you’ve followed this band for the last few years, you’ll appreciate all of it.

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