To paraphrase Alex Turner, “That old soul music, eh? That soul music, it just won’t go away”. It’s been a while since a decent soul act has shown up with a passion for the sounds of the old days, but Lake Street Dive have that, and with not a negligible amount of talent as well. Having become a viral hit (for what that’s worth) with their wonderful cover of The Jackson 5’s I Want You Back, it was up to their latest album ‘Bad Self Portraits’ to show us for definite whether they could stand on their own material.
Alas, the fates have decried that Lake Street Dive are bound for naturalist soul glory with this record. A rare beast these days, there’s no messing around with computers or pedals or what-have-you going on here. You’ve got a drum, a double bass, a pinch of trumpet, a dash of guitar, and the powerful vocals of Rachel Price which, if the instruments are the things that push you back against the wall, is the thing that nails you there.
It may be an organic sound Lake Street Dive are going for, but they aren’t simply ripping off the sounds of what came before. Their soulful doughnut is filled by an injection of sugary rock and jazz jam which keeps their music both forceful and interesting on a formal level. That said, they aren’t above tearing a little bit of Motown off their favourite tracks and pasting them in whenever they threaten to run out of ideas. There’s a touch of The Supremes’ You Can’t Hurry Love about You Go Down Smooth, and some Beach Boys harmonies on Stop Your Crying, but this never feels heavy handed or lazy.
Indeed the energy they communicate in their playing hits you from the very opening note of the album’s eponymous track. It’s a youthful rock ‘n’ roller’s energy that’s counterbalanced somewhat by the adult contemporary lyrics, a mix of forceful, joyous tracks like Rabid Animal and the saucy balladry of Better Than. But it is certainly Seventeen, with its fantastic tempo changes and wistful lyrics – “I wish I’d met you when I was seventeen” – that steals the show, a distinguished honour on an album without one track you’d feel obliged to skip.
Lake Street Dive aren’t the kind of band who will be considered on the cutting edge of advancements in music, but for an act working entirely among the kinds of instruments that were available eighty years ago, their sound is incredibly fresh and modern. It may not be a classic record but if you hear ‘Bad Self Portraits’ once you will want to hear it again and again.