The Singles Party: Broken Bells, ‘Holding on For Life’

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Happy One Year Anniversary to The Singles Party Column! One year ago we started out with a look at the comeback singles from Soundgarden, this week we celebrate with the new single from one of the most acclaimed and beloved supergroups in today’s music scene.

Broken Bells, featuring James Mercer of The Shins and producer/DJ Danger Mouse, burst on the scene a few years back with their infectious singles “The High Road.” Now they return with tremendous fanfare, a nationwide tour (announced this week), a short film/music video featuring Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and the new single “Holding on For Life.”

Nick Porcaro: here isn’t much wrong with the new single from Broken Bells, but there isn’t much right with it either. The best parts of the track—James Mercer’s unaccompanied falsetto vocal towards the end of each verse, and the entrancing synth melody following each chorus—don’t stick around long enough to make an impact. On the other hand, I could certainly do without the ’80s bargain bin keyboard twinkles that anchor the song, and Mercer’s multi-tracked, Bee Gees-impersonating chorus comes across as flaccid. It’s all too unfortunate that a song called “Holding On for Life” sounds so lifeless. Verdict: One and Done.


Kelly Spoer: I want to like this. It has everything I like in a moody indie rock song. Mopey lyrics that hit a little too close to home? Check. Strange synth-pop sound that brings me back to my childhood? Check. Catchy chorus that will sound really awkward when you sing along with the song to the people standing around when your car is at a stop light and your windows are down? Check. But there is something missing that would make this great. It’s good, but that’s it: just good. Nothing that will blow you away. Nothing that would create new listeners if you weren’t a fan already. The only interesting hook-worthy part of the song is the bridge, which reminds me of a lost Beatles track that should have been on Magical Mystery Tour. Even with a song that is clearly one’s take on depression, this Broken Bells song will just bore you. I hope the rest of the album isn’t like this. Verdict: One and Done

Jason Stives: Shins’ frontman James Mercer hasn’t been giving many people the warm fuzzies over the past year and half. The Shins return in the spring of 2012 via Port of Morrow was not well received (in my opinion) save for a few tracks so returning finally to his side project with Danger Mouse is a bit risky. “Holding on for Life” is an interesting song to return on as it clearly has the composition to be great but there is a flat nature to its catchiness that is leaving me scratching my head. Everything seems to work perfectly here from the cliché but fitting falsetto chorus and the psychedelic back beat and synth riff. Mercer’s vocals are in top form reaching a shaky and eerie height that only he would know how to achieve or at least what Brian Burton probably instructed him to do. But something just doesn’t sit right. The song plays perfectly into the title of their upcoming record After the Disco but it also wants to be an Animal Collective/Of Montreal hybrid. At this moment because I feel the rest of the record will have something to offer I am inclined to add this to my playlist if only by putting it smack dab in the middle of said playlist. Verdict: Add to the Playlist

Photo Credit: James Minchin
Photo Credit: James Minchin

Jason Kundrath: “Holding on For Life” could probably hold its own somewhere deep in the tracklist to the new Broken Bells album, but the fact that James Mercer and Dangermouse have designated this throwaway tune as the lead single doesn’t bode well for After the Disco. If you don’t already know, Mercer is one of the best songsmiths in the business today (see the Shins discography), and Dangermouse is a killer producer (have you heard Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy”? Yeah.). So given their track record, “Holding on For Life” sounds lazy and lifeless. It’s got some vintage, sci-fi synth sounds, and Mercer does his best Barry Gibb impression in the chorus, but neither of these things are worth writing home about. As a whole, the song is a dreary scrap that sounds like something Mercer picked up off the cutting room floor. And the more I listen to it, the more I don’t like it. Verdict: One and Done.

Bill Bodkin: I really dug this long lost track that the Bee Gees and Hall and Oates made in the heyday of New Wave. Oh wait, no it’s actually the new one from Broken Bells. Listen, all jokes aside, the duo of Danger Mouse and James Mercer is brilliant. I loved their last record so much and I have high hopes for their new one. However, I’m kinda disappointed with “Holding on For Life.” It’s a little too laid back, a little too chill. There’s no real hook here, nothing that’s memorable — which is highly surprising considering the two men involved in the song. I think this song, if kept as an album cut, would be judged less harshly, but as a single it just doesn’t work.

Final Verdict: Our music editor Jason Stives is all about this song, but the rest of the gang does not concur. The majority is down and disappointed on the new one from Broken Bells.

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