Review: Haim 'Something To Tell You'
‘Mum and Dad would like this’ is not, perhaps, the ideal initial thought to have upon hearing a record for the first time. That’s largely, I think, because a lot of Mums like Ed Sheeran. But cast an eye over their music collections (I’m talking vinyl / CD era) and maybe there’s something to be said for a parental seal of approval. When it comes to the classics - Prince, Bowie, The Stones etc- they often know what they’re talking about. When I first heard Something To Tell You, Haim’s recently released second album, the first thing that popped into my head was that my parents would enjoy it, followed swiftly by a little pang of disappointment. But after having remembered that my parents’ taste is music is actually good, particularly when it comes to 70s and 80s sounds, my faith in Haim's sophomore effort was happily restored. That it’s a record for all the family is manifestly a good thing, when what binds it is a reverence for good music across the decades.
The fact is that Haim's sound is strongly imbued with 70s rock sounds has been pretty throughly gone over by now. The sisters all look like baby Stevies, and it seems clear that their childhood was filled with music beloved by their parents (see: the band they were in through their teen years with their mum and dad, adorably named Rockinhaim, which played covers of the golden oldies). That their music owed a debt to classic soft-rock was true when they released their debut, Days Are Gone, in 2013, and its true now listening to Something To Tell You. It's undoubtedly a large element of the tapestry of their sound, and it’s great to hear it running through these new tracks.
That that sound still feels as fresh and lush as it did in 2013 is testament to the musicianship of Danielle, Este, and Alana, and to the excellent production of Ariel Rechtshaid, with whom the sisters also recorded their first album, and Rostam Batmanglij formerly of Vampire Weekend. Their regard for rhythm and curious production elements (see a horse’s neigh and seagull’s call on ‘Want You Back’ for one) keep things interesting throughout. Electronic elements and pitched vocals give their retro sound a contemporary snap. The Dev Hynes co-write ‘You Never Knew’ sounds, just like his own releases under his Blood Orange moniker, at once totally 2017 and wonderfully Studio54.
Having said all that, Something To Tell You is not all 70s nostalgia (albeit brought up to date). In listening to the album in full, 90s and 00s influences cut through. The first 30 seconds of ‘Want You Back’ is so earnestly poppy that the first time it first came through my headphones I nearly skipped the track, assuming it wasn’t going to be my thing. I needn’t have worried: 30 seconds in and the trademark Haim rhythm section had burst into life and soothed my soul. Elsewhere, ‘Nothing’s Wrong’ has become a favourite thanks to its debt to Shania Twain (my ultimate guiltless pleasure), as has ‘Little Of Your Love’, diffused as it is with a country twang and stadium pop hook that’s not so different from their one-time tour mate Taylor Swift. The Best Track award, though, goes to ‘Walking Away’, its breathy sparseness recalling peak Janet Jackson, giving the largely pretty dense and pacy record a little space to breathe.
Haim’s strength, I think, is in their commitment to their identity as a rock band. When it comes to songwriting, they’re earnest and truthful, and when it comes to playing live, they deliver ever bit as much as the classic musicians they were inspired by. That Something To Tell You is as much a pop record as it is a rock one, for me only further cements my respect for them. It’s clear that their appreciation of music spans from Fleetwood Mac to George Michael to the Shangri-Las. I even heard a little B*Witched in there, but that might just be me. As such, Haim’s music feels like a truthful representation of three same-same-but-different people, whose influences exist together as harmoniously as their vocals.