GERMANY/SWITZERLAND: Mutual Friends - Boy
A seemingly solid indie pop record, reveals itself as more than that with its hidden lyrical depths
The brainchild of Swiss singer Valeska Steiner and German bassist Sonja Glass who together form the indie pop duo Boy, Mutual Friends initially appeared to me to be a nice collection of good to great pop songs from some clearly talented musicians. The music was very nicely arranged in a lush, radio-friendly style, and that seemed to be it. Good music, but nothing to write home about. And yet, as I returned to the album for a deep dive listen for the purposes of writing this review, I realised I had not fully appreciated the best part of the album: the lyrics. You might think that as they sing in English, as opposed to, say an Aboriginal language spoken only by a few thousand people, I really don’t have an excuse, but Danny and I move through albums at such a pace (we are effectively Cookie Monsters, but for albums), so these things happen. As I listened to it, I began to realise that Steiner and Glass are excellent lyricists, and the stories they tell through their songs are both quotidian and meaningful, simplistic and complex, full of rich vignettes of the female experience, as well as more broadly human ones. Going back to Mutual Friends has proven to be a cautionary tale – always pay attention to the lyrics!
“They manage to take everyday moments from life that most people can relate to and exalt them with poetic words that work in time with the slightly melancholic music to create a bittersweet feel.”
Let’s start with the music. It is very accessible, with smooth melodies that are easy on the ear and are often memorable. It is in the vein of other pop musicians such as Lily Allen, and yet there’s elements of experimentalism and variation within songs like, Railway, where the opening drum track is designed to sound like a train coming in. It is overall a pop record, and it remains breezy fun throughout, but those moments where they do experiment more help to make them stand out. That said, that is nothing to compare with the actual stories they tell within those pleasant pop songs. They manage to take everyday moments from life that most people can relate to and exalt them with poetic words that work in time with the slightly melancholic music to create a bittersweet feel. A great example is Drive Darling, which relates a story of a child moving away from home. Through lyrics such as the following, it creates a mood of sadness and joy:
Once, once that we arrive The hardest of goodbyes You will dry my eyes Somehow you're always by my side The one who holds my kite And watches over all my flights
It reminded me of my own experiences of leaving home and moving away, and that’s them at their best, writing their own lyrics about presumably personal, embellished, or perhaps invented stories and writing it in such a way that you can feel like they’re relating your own experiences. The aforementioned Railway is another such song. It’s a sadder song about loss, but whether it’s about death or the end of a relationship is up to you. The theme is more about how places can remind us of people in maudlin and melancholy ways once they are no longer a part of our lives, which will evoke different images for different people. On the other end of the scale This is the Beginning is a wonderfully optimistic song about moving into a new place, in some ways a counterpart to the poignant Drive Darling. The new location becomes a metaphor for a new start at life, and the repetitive chorus that ends the song only cements the rose-tinted feelings one can have when breaking from the past.
Waitress is another excellent song, in a storytelling style akin to Billy Joel, that tells of a waitress and her dreams and hopes and how they contrast with her current situation, and it is once again pitched at the right amount of sentimental without it ever becoming mawkish. It is true that none of this stuff is necessarily ground-breaking or innovative that hasn’t been spoken of before. Boy are not reinventing the genre, but that would be to miss the point. Pop has been telling stories of heartbreak, loss, sadness and joy for decades now, but when a band come along and do those same things and do them so well that they feel fresh and new, it’s a remarkable thing. It also is helped by the album format, as when listened to as a whole piece, you get the sense of a story being told, a collage of life stories. It is not a concept album by any means, rather a collection of thematically linked songs, and that helps it come together as a piece. Definitely take the time to listen and pay attention. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.