While it’s something of an anomaly in the band’s catalog, There’s Nothing Wrong with Love laid a path for many bands to follow afterwards.
There’s Nothing Wrong with Love doesn’t sound like a definitive record, even though some would argue that it is. This is an album that has grown considerably in stature over the course of 20 years, even as Built to Spill moved further and further away from this kind of music. But while it’s something of an anomaly in the band’s catalog, There’s Nothing Wrong with Love laid a path for many bands to follow afterwards (I would certainly argue that Modest Mouse owe a lot to this record). Knowing all of this makes revisiting the album, which has finally been reissued on vinyl after being out of print for years, a little strange. It’s hard to believe that an album so specifically intimate could be such a life-changer.
For anyone familiar with Built to Spill as the jam band it’s okay for indie-rock fans to like, There’s Nothing Wrong with Love may be a shocker. Aside from brief spurts of guitar noodling, Doug Martsch is more focused on melody and lyrical conceits here. At times the album verges on power-pop with a hint of stoned, blissful mindlessness, as when Martsch considers the constellations on “Big Dipper.” But there’s a cutting emotional edge to the album as well: “Cleo” finds Martsch grappling with the oncoming responsibilities of fatherhood, while “Twin Falls” alternately delights in and laments his upbringing in a small Idaho town. However, it’s the album’s quieter moments that succeed the most, particularly the majestic “Car,” which remains an indie-rock classic to this day. The delicate “Fling” is just as gorgeous, though its beauty is lost once you realize what Martsch means by “It takes me a long time/ To come to the memory of us.”
While there are emotional, heart-rending moments on the album, Love’s enduring strength lies in its positivity, something that imitators of this sound haven’t quite pinned down. There’s a through-line from the delicate, honest pop Martsch writes here and the more pop-friendly third-wave emo of groups like Death Cab For Cutie and Brand New (who have covered “Car” more than once in concert). However, they lack the exuberance Martsch displays even at his most anxious. For him, there are no emotional absolutes: even as he feels literal world-crushing anxiety over the future on “In The Morning,” he can’t help but sing with excitement over what that future could bring. There is legitimate emotional complexity throughout the album, though it can be disguised by the seemingly simple nature of the compositions.
Simple, that is, until Martsch decides to let loose. While it’s definitely not a jam record, there are elements within There’s Nothing Wrong with Love that point to Built to Spill’s future direction. Martsch’s guitar is very much present and speaks loudly, from the heroics that close out “Car” to “The Source,” the album’s lone truly heavy moment. These guitar flourishes not only add depth to the songs, they also help the album stand out from contemporaries who were content to put out rote versions of K Records indie pop without the classic rock flourishes Martsch would later indulge in.
It’s possible that There’s Nothing Wrong with Love was such a personal record for Martsch that he couldn’t possibly make it again. It’s a record so tied to its creator’s slow stumble into adulthood that it would be foolish for anyone, least of all Martsch himself, to try and re-create it. Perhaps that’s why he moved away from this album’s sound (though I’d imagine he also really grew to like playing guitar solos), but it only serves to highlight what a singular record There’s Nothing Wrong with Love is. It’s a beautiful journey, even if we’re likely not to go on it again.