Album Review: Lit – Tastes Like Gold

American band Lit have returned with their first album in five years.

The Breakdown

Tastes Like Gold will probably be Lit's most successful record for two decades, which means that those streaming it are likely to be unfamiliar with their full story. To that end, Tastes Like Gold both dissolves and condenses most of the band's last 20 years and is a satisfactory distillation of the sound they're known for.
Round Hill Records 6.5

American band Lit have returned with their first album in five years. It marks a significant shift away from the country sound of 2017’s These Are the Days and harks back to the alt rock of their heyday, when ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ ruled the US Alt. charts and its album, A Place in the Sun, gained platinum status.

Lit’s journey is one that’s been characterised by constant, gradual change – change that’s perhaps gone unnoticed by the masses. By the time they hit the big time, they’d already gone through one major transition: in the mid-90s they were grunge through-and-through, but the alt rock and pop punk boom was too much to resist. 1999 sophomore LP A Place in the Sun significantly brightened the band’s palette and shifted over a million copies in the US, thanks to singles ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ and ‘Miserable’ (fantastic hits for which Lit are still known).

In the 21st century, Lit, fronted by brothers A. Jay and Jeremy Popoff, slipped off the mainstream radar but kept on trucking. Heartland/Americana influences crept further into their sound over the course of their four post-millennium records, and in 2017 the Americana subtext jumped to text with These Are the Days, a full-blown country rock record.

It’s ironic, then, that as the brothers have moved from their native Orange County, California out to Nashville, Tennessee, new album Tastes Like Gold retreats considerably from their burgeoning country sound and back towards the Angeleno, sun-kissed brand of alt rock and pop punk with which they hit the big time. It’s a record bathed in KROQ nostalgia and instant MTV2 familiarity. You don’t know the songs yet, but you know the mood.

Rock band Lit

Written in collaboration with Eric Paquette & Carlo Colasacco and developed after Lit reached out to some of their late 90s peers, Tastes Like Gold is precisely engineered to evoke romantic images of sunset-tinted urban landscapes in Long Beach and Santa Monica. The beachside palm trees and skateparks, the airports and swimming pools – the kinds of places featured in The O.C.’s opening titles and where Blink-182 & Sum-41 shot their biggest videos.

It’s an aesthetic choice that proves mostly successful for Lit. Pleasant as it was to hear the Popoff brothers exploring Americana from numerous angles, their material grew slightly stagnant. Their best work prioritises hedonistic lyrics and matches them step for step with organic momentum and youthful energy; Tastes Like Gold sustains a fair portion of that recipe. Upbeat opener ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ delivers a revitalised manifesto (“We’re pushing into the red, taking it over the edge”) and pulses with the kind of drive Lit know how to deliver. The volume is back up by several notches.

We were all isolated for two years so there’s no better time to soundtrack kicking the door open. The album’s lead singles focus on good times with cigarette-burnt and alcohol-stained edges; they have clear pop hit structures; they announce new sections with dynamic sonic shifts. It’s simple and effective. ‘Kicked Off the Plane’, the album’s highlight, takes an autobiographical tale about an unfortunate interaction with the clipboard-holding staff at an airport and twists it entertainingly into a story about the dreary morning headache that follows a night of debauchery.

On ‘Mouth Shut’ (with Adrian Young of No Doubt), there’s palpable frustration in A. Jay’s perspective of the online world – the constant performance of social media, the immense pressure applied to every text message, status update, or idle thought we might put out there. “There’s no nice way to say what I’m thinking, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut,” he sings. It could do without the repeated instances of the chant-along guitar lick that opens the song, but each chorus crashes in with the kind of force demanded of a bitter retort.

Closer ‘Let’s Go’, a cover of The Cars’ 1979 hit (featuring Jason Freese on keys), is an excitable and crunchy rendition of the Candy-O opener, by way of 1984-era Van Halen or Frontiers-era Journey. Its presence on Tastes Like Gold is a clear indication that the sources of inspiration for the album were the types of power pop and alt rock forebears who understood exactly how to make the genre tick. Having that brief to work towards gives Lit some renewed focus.

The band may have retreated from the Heartland influences that lined (and then dominated) their 2010s material, but that’s not to say they’re completely absent. Bryan Adams’ voice wouldn’t sound lost atop ‘Here’s to Another’, and the closest that Tastes Like Gold gets to a ballad, ‘OK With That’, recalls The Maine’s latter-era output. Meanwhile, ‘Hold That Thought’ brings out acoustic guitars and tight harmonies for a mid-tempo foot-tapper that shows These Are the Days hasn’t been forgotten. These more languid songs start to crop up with increasing occurrence in the LP’s back half, but that’s no crime.

You get the sense that, after so long, Lit have acquiesced to a degree and are happy to (mostly) play up to audience expectations. They know how the music-listening public perceive them, they know their heyday is probably behind them, and they seem completely comfortable with that. As ‘The Life That I Got’s chanted chorus says, “Maybe I ain’t got a lot, I never wanted a mansion or a yacht / But I’m in love with the motherfucking life that I got”.

Tastes Like Gold will probably be Lit’s most successful record for two decades, which means that those streaming it are likely to be unfamiliar with their full story. To that end, Tastes Like Gold both dissolves and condenses most of the band’s last 20 years and is a satisfactory distillation of the sounds they’re known for, as well as a logical sequel to 2001’s Atomic; “1999 meets 2023”, as A. Jay described it in an interview with us. It’s a jet-engine streamlined, polished rock record that’s aware of its own limitations and happy to play to its strengths. It’s nice to have them back.

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