Add New York’s Bravery to the new millennium’s growing cadre of rockers who have embraced quarter-century-old new wave style and found an eager record industry to support them. The Bravery’s rise happened seemingly overnight, from their first gig in Brooklyn in late 2003 to an album in the spring of 2005. The release of The Bravery’s self-titled debut was preceded by a bizarre public feud between lead singer Sam Endicott and Brandon Flowers, labelmate and frontman of the Killers, to whom the Bravery are inevitably compared. While The Bravery does follow the same formula that made Hot Fuss a success, the record offers a brand of dirty New York electro that is all its own. “Fearless” and “Public Service Announcement” showcase Endicott’s generic vocals, a shameless blend of Julian Casablancas’ tipsy mumble and the bombast of Brandon Flowers’ put-on accent. The highlight here, however, is the wistful single “An Honest Mistake.” With its shimmering guitars and precise drum patterns, it’s surprisingly effective, making similarly styled hits like “Somebody Told Me” feel frothy in comparison. The rest of the album wades through expected highs and lows, but by the end of this brief guilty pleasure, the verdict rings clear: The Killers may have made better singles, but The Bravery made the better album. Play nicely, boys.
Like the Killers, the Bravery chose a big-name producer for its follow-up and then rose to the occasion. On The Sun and the Moon, Brendan O’Brien rendered the band with clearer sound quality, benefiting marginally more aggressive playing and much more consistent songwriting. In the process, it tops the Killers at the singles game: “Believe” and “Time Won’t Let Me Go” both squeeze a bit more mileage out of the new wave sound (which the Vegas contingent all but abandoned after Hot Fuss). “This Is Not the End” takes the retro approach too far, though, lifting its guitar riff and rhythm from “London Calling.” True to their titles, “Every Word Is a Knife in My Ear” and “Split Me Wide Open” are the album’s most aggressive-sounding tracks (with Endicott doing a surprisingly accurate imitation of Robert Smith on the latter). “Tragedy Bound” is a sad tale sung over acoustic guitar and violin (“Tragedy bound, now she’s stuck / She can’t even care enough to fuck / She’s cutting herself, just to see if it works”). While adhering to the debut’s formula, The Sun and the Moon benefits from the studio polish.
Eight months later, the Bravery issued The Sun and the Moon: Complete — the original album plus a second disc of the same 12 songs recorded in different studios as well as “in various bedrooms and in the back of a bus.” (Brendan O’Brien still gets credit as producer, which makes one wonder what he did while the band was recording in such varied — not to mention cramped — settings.) This less overtly commercial approach casts the tunes in a different light — well, actually, in the same light that bathed the debut album. A ghostly, muffled piano intro replaces the smooth synth lead-in to “Believe.” “This Is Not the End” is driven by a more staccato beat, making it sound less like a Clash copy and, ironically, more like the Killers. The revised “Time Won’t Let Me Go” is a better New Order single than that band has managed in years. The versions of “Every Word Is a Knife in My Ear” and “Tragedy Bound” here replace the guitars and live drums with moody synths and rhythm machines; “Bad Sun” adds flamenco-style guitar. Although not as polished as the 2007 release, the second disc would’ve stood well on its own as the Bravery’s sophomore effort. With that in mind, it would’ve been nice if the band (or its label) had offered it separately, rather than married to an unmodified reissue of the original. And labels wonder why downloading has become so popular…
Endicott’s new collaborator, Apples in Stereo guitarist John Hill (the duo had worked on three songs on Shakira’s She-Wolf), co-produced the somewhat grimier-sounding Stir the Blood in London and New York studios as well as the ever-reliable “various bedrooms [and] a tour bus.” Again, the musicians play just a touch more forcefully than they did on their preceding album. Endicott strains against his range more, too, sometimes overdoing the Robert Smith imitation (and occasionally sounding like a man with a hangover). By this time, the Bravery has nailed down its signature sound; Stir the Blood offers no changes or advances. The standout tracks here are the most aggressive/depressive ones. The vicious rape described in “Hatef–k” (“You can tear your nails into my skin / You won’t stop me / You can twist and scream into the air / But no one will hear you here”) makes Stone Temple Pilots’ “Sex Type Thing” sound like the shabby farce that it is. “Jack-o’-Lantern Man” is a similarly aggressive murder fantasy, with homoerotic allusions: “Kenneth Anger-colored dreams / Underwater, hide the screams.” The ballad “She’s So Bendable” (written by bassist Michael Hindert) suggests Lou Reed in a synth-hungry mood: “Ain’t a soul who’s seen a loser like me…Girls like you don’t need a thing / ‘Cause girls like you hate everything.” The album peaks with its opener, the Sisters of Mercy-style “Adored,” in which Endicott sing-slurs a tale of love found just before Hurricane Katrina and strengthened in its aftermath: “A storm came and fucked up the Crescent City / And then they were left with nothing / She said, ‘Nothing’s not so bad / It could be the best time that we ever had.'” Most of the other tunes, though, are assembled from a by-now predictable identi-kit.