Passive Me, Aggressive You is so good that making a direct thematic and sonic sequel is totally understandable.
Back in 2010, it seemed you couldn’t even leave the house without hearing The Naked and Famous. “Young Blood” popped up on the airwaves so fast and grabbed people by the heartstrings so hard that, if you were to ask, folks could tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard it. It produced snapshots of people laughing and drinking in bars, of a smile forming across the face of someone on a long, late night drive, or even a couple sharing earbuds on a couch listening to the song from a laptop. It was an instant hit. And subsequent singles followed but the accompanying album, Passive Me, Aggressive You, proved that The Naked and Famous certainly had more in them than just the one jam.
Then, just like that, they were gone, despite releasing the serviceable follow-up In Rolling Waves, re-releasing their first two pre-Passive Me, Aggressive You EPs, and being a nearly constant touring presence. As good as the band’s music actually is, nothing seems to have topped that “Young Blood” moment. The good news is, The Naked and Famous have, in Simple Forms, released an album full of songs that will stoke your “Young Blood” fire. Featuring 10 tracks, each more or less sound like or contain sounds featured in “Young Blood.” Whether the jangling, reverbed, electronic keys or the slow, steady driving beat, or the vocal melodies that make your tear ducts lose control, it’s all there in bits and pieces throughout the album.
The opening track, “Higher,” features all of the musical descriptions listed above. It could have been called “Young Blood, Part Two,” but the band would have been showing their hand a bit too much. Despite the overt familiarity with and similarity to their biggest hit, the song’s a total earworm. And a good one at that. It also allows singer Alisa Xayalith to show off her vocal chops—something that’s been somewhat subdued on previous releases. The fact of the matter is, right out of the gate the band advertises the idea that they’re trying to recapture the hearts and of their fans through nostalgia for their past releases. And it doesn’t stop here.
“The Water Beneath You” isn’t exactly a club tune, but it’s got that 1-2-3, 1-2 bass beat found in just about every club tune. This is just a bit slower, a bit more joyful and is certainly meant to get the head, rather than the body, bobbing. “Last Forever” is the most bass-driven track here, mixing loops with traditional drums and exploding into a pulsing, smile-inducing chorus that could make a bad day all better. “Laid Low,” the first single off the album, has pounding drums that wouldn’t be out of place on a metal album if the double bass and heavy cymbals didn’t fit the synth and layered vocals so damn well. “The Runners” could have been called “Young Blood, Part Three” but—you know what, it feels like we may have covered this already…
Look, The Naked and Famous took a step backward with Simple Forms. That’s not to say the music is bad. Because it’s not. It is, from start to finish, an absolute delight of an album. But they made an active decision to recapture some of the magic from their breakout hit. Call that decision or frame of mind what you will, but you could certainly understand why it was a viable option. Passive Me, Aggressive You is so good that making a direct thematic and sonic sequel is totally understandable. It may stunt their growth moving forward or make their next album a bit tough to swallow. Perhaps, they may even make a record like this every two or three years, leading to a perfectly sustainable career. Whatever the case may be and whatever the future may hold, Simple Forms does exactly what fans have been hoping for since 2010. And that is exactly what The Naked and Famous were shooting for.