Review: How to be a Human Being (2016) by Glass Animals

One of the most distinctive things about Glass Animals’ debut album Zaba was its great jungle vibe; ambient jungle sounds run in the background on all of the tracks and frontman David Bayley spends much of the album singing about ‘snake-baboons’ and ‘ape-swines’. This vibe served Glass Animals well, and helped fuel some really good songs such as ‘Black Mambo’ and ‘Pools’.

But on their second album, How to be a Human Being, the jungle theme has been done away with almost completely. As the album’s title suggests, they’ve moved on from animals to people. Now they’re singing about living with your mum, waiting in line for premade sandwiches and eating mayonnaise from the jar. Each of the album’s songs is a vignette about a different character’s life. So while they may have ditched their last album’s theme, they’ve found a new one to replace it – one that might be even better.

Less restricted in terms of subject matter, the band is able to make music about whatever they want, and the lyrics, and Bailey’s delivery of them, are such a damn pleasure because of it. I could spend the whole of this review just listing the lyrics from this album – ‘thought that I was / Northern Camden’s own Flash Gordon’ – ‘pineapples are in my head’ – ‘she said I look fat / but I look fantastic’ – but I’ll try to limit myself. Besides, you’re probably better off just listening to the album; the delivery of them is part of what makes them so memorable.

The album is more consistent in terms of song quality than Zaba overall, but they don’t fit together quite as cohesively. There’s a lot of different styles on this album, and every song has a different feel to it. There are big and theatrical songs like ‘Life Itself’, chilled out ones like ‘Season 2 Episode 3’, melancholy ones like ‘Agnes’ and very R&Bish ones like ‘Cane Shuga’. Each style reflects on the song and its subject-matter perfectly. For example, ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ has a chilled out feel to it because it’s about a girl who sits around all day eating cereal and getting blazed, while ‘Take a Slice’ is loud and in-your-face because that’s what its main character is like: ‘gonna fuck my way through college’.

And the best thing about the album’s varying moods is that the band masters pretty much all of them. I loved the theatrical songs and I loved the slow ones. Glass Animals have really come into their own with this album, and they improve on almost every aspect of their debut. The only songs I’m not overly keen on are ‘Cane Shuga’ and ‘[Premade Sandwiches]’. ‘Cane Shuga’’s lyrics are great and memorable, but the style of the song didn’t do much for me. ‘[Premade Sandwiches]’ was interesting – it’s a 40 second spoken word song – but I don’t feel like the album would have lost much if they’d decided to leave it out.

Overall, How to be a Human Being is one of my favourite albums of the year so far. It’s got a great sound, great lyrics, great variety… Not sure there’s much more I could have wanted from it.

Essential Songs: ‘Life Itself’, ‘Season 2 Episode 3’, ‘Pork Soda’.

 

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