When Flemish band Das Pop made a comeback with their self-titled 3rd album in 2009, it seemed as if they had never left. Das Pop (the record) delivered some of their best cuts of the infectious seventies pop that made them so enjoyable in the first place. Their airy, upbeat energy, mixed with bittersweet undertones and crisp sonorities, feels like it’s been around forever. Yet, the band’s quality songwriting, plus the instantly recognisable voice (and daft stage antics) of singer Bent van Looy make Das Pop one of the top brands in Belgian pop music.
Times are changing however. These gentlemen have progressed well into their thirties, and a new generation is itching to take their throne as catchiest popband in the Benelux (Dutch electropop outfit Lola Kite and Flemish indiepop prodigies Balthazar among them). The Game, Das Pop’s fourth studio effort, could be seen as an answer to the question of their ambitions for the next 10 years. In it’s own right, it’s another pretty upbeat collection, with plenty of clever popsongs. But there’s also a more pensive state of mind that surfaces on The Game. It seems Das Pop has slowed down to take a look at it’s situation; past, present and future. You can almost hear them wondering “can we still get away with acting out teen dreams like we used to?”
The answer is somewhat ambiguous. While some songs on the album keep up the energetic, partying-on-a-saturday-night-in-the-seventies vibe they’re known and loved for, but there’s also plenty of room for new -more intimate- musical directions. Consider “Flowers In The Dirt” for instance, a mid-tempo lovesong, in which Van Looy seems to play on more down-to-earth, mature motives. He examines a troublesome relationship with a calm and collected perspective than in his days as a spokesperson for teenage dreams and angst. Along the same line, “Fair Weather Friends” trades-in despair for the kind of sarcasm you would expect from a wizer, older guy looking back on teenage tribulations. Meanwhile, “The Thunder” is the kind of piano-ballad you’d expect from Joe Jackson, one of the quoted sources of inspiration. The other is ABBA, whose intelligent, songwriting casts echoes throughout the album (listen to “Gold” and tell me you don’t hear it, I dare you!).
Sonically, The Game is a bit darker, and more layered than it’s predecessor. The guitars are scruffier, the drums (courtesy of the amazing Matt Eccles) dryer-sounding and the overall sound a lot less breezy than on Das Pop. It’s a risky step, but they’ve managed to keep it within FM-radio bounds for the most part. No surprises here: They’re not the types to go overboard on soundscaping or self-indulgent introspection. Das Pop are nothing if not craftsmen with an eye for their audience. When Van Looy commented in an interview: “in making this album, we tried to be as uncool as we could be”, it’s hard to believe. These guys are still earning plenty of cool points for their efforts.
The Game might be a more mature record, with less straightforward audience-pleasing cuts. But it also capitalises on the kind of self-awareness you need to keep making music and stay credible even beyond your teenage-heartthrob years. The album is unmistakenly a part of Das Pop’s evolution from frantic disco act to a more serene, adult pop outfit. It left a few hickups on this album, but I guess that’s all in The Game. In any case, it leaves nothing to wonder as to whether Das Pop will come out victorious the other end, ready to create many more gems of popmusic over the next decade or so.