The cover art of Grow Up, the sophomore record by London post-punk quartet Desperate Journalist, perfectly encapsulates everything that’s magical about the album. In the center of the photograph, a teenage girl—lead singer Jo Bevan in her adolescent years—stands in a desolate garden. Her solemn, direct stare indicates the album’s no-holds-barred expression of emotion; her frilly dress hints at its poetic finesse. The black-and-white filter placed over the image embodies the album’s cinematic feel, well suited for dramatic close-ups of people trying to fight their personal demons. Grow Up is every bit as intense as you would expect it to be, in the most graceful way possible.
It’s no coincidence that Desperate Journalist shares a name with a Cure song written as a clever diss for a reviewer who spurned Three Imaginary Boys. Just as the band did on its self-titled debut, on Grow Up, Desperate Journalist exhibits an intelligent edge that invariably comes across as a genuine show of artistry rather than a failed attempt to seem edgy for edginess’s sake. The electricity’s in the details—the way Devan’s voice rises to imposing heights and volumes without cracking, the way the haunting instrumental parts of songs continue after the vocals have ended, the way lyrics like “Honey, you’re a coward” and “I’ll give you something to cry about” are presented in a musical context that makes them sound chilling instead of simply flippant. Surely, there are moments when the band doesn’t shine as brightly as it has the potential to, but even in those moments, its talent is evident.
The album begins by tossing the listener into the sonic storm that is “Hollow”—its first single and its best track. It’s difficult to know where to start when describing this one, because all four band members are equally essential to its brilliance. Caz Hellbent’s percussion invites the listener into the song’s turbulent world, Rob Hardy’s guitar playing creates a tenebrous atmosphere, Simon Drowner’s bass playing contributes to the tension, and Devan’s voice soars like a wasp that makes pretty circles in the sky before landing for a sting. Due to its tone-setting intro; the artful repetition in the chorus; and Devan’s ability to be guided, but never restrained by structure and melody, the song sounds a bit like an amped-up version of The Cranberries’ “Zombie.” It may be almost six minutes, but it moves along with such energy that it never bores the listener.
The next two songs on the album—both of which were also released as singles—are just as powerful. “Resolution” has dreamy, upbeat instrumentation, but still packs a punch due to lyrics like “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and it’s over”—a phrase that isn’t particularly stunning in and of itself, but hits hard due to Devan’s delivery. The song’s final modified chorus show off the band’s capacity to be innovative. On “Be Kind,” the band continues with a more laid-back sound that evokes The Smiths while keeping the post-punk flame burning boldly. Dynamic changes and jarring metaphors like “blood in my mouth” make it clear that Desperate Journalist has no intentions of playing it safe with simple forms and cliches.
Overall, the rest of Grow Up is captivating. The former half of the album, which also includes the lush moodiness of “All Over” and “Purple,” is more interesting than the latter half, which doesn’t have quite as many addictive hooks. That’s not to say that the latter half is lackluster, though—it certainly isn’t. Gems like the gorgeous guitar riff of “Lacking in Your Love” and the epic drum into of “I Try Not To” show that the band has the kind of skill that will induce both old fans and new listeners to stick around for future Desperate Journalist releases.
Creative and cohesive, Grow Up is the kind of album that you’ll want to come back to after the final track has finished. Here’s hoping that Desperate Journalist tours the U.S.—these songs were made for explosive live performances.