Throughout 2016, Sundara Karma built up rapid hype that saw them filling tents at Reading and Leeds, selling out headline tours and being relentlessly played at Fuzzy Logic on a Thursday. A week into 2017 and they’ve released their debut album, Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect; however, with a grand total of only 4 out of the 12 tracks being brand new, perhaps Greatest Hits would be a more adequate title – except the tracks aren’t really that great and are even further away from being hits.
It’s definitely a Marmite of an album. It opens with explosive track ‘A Young Understanding’, which flows nicely into the summery bubblegum clashes of ‘Loveblood’, a somewhat generic indie track that will probably feature on the next series of Made in Chelsea. Throughout, Oscar Lulu’s nasally belts often feel like they’re fighting the obnoxious drums and fragmented guitars for your attention, and the some of the lyrics just belong on pretentious Tumblr edits of angsty middle class teens smoking in their skinny jeans and Converse (see ‘Vivienne’: “Come on baby let’s feel alive / We could change the world / If we stopped getting high”). Wouldn’t be surprised if Matty Healy gave them that one for free.
Yet, there are still some bangers under the mash. Sundara classics ‘Flame’ and ‘She Said’, released already in the summer of 2016, are undeniable indie anthems with thoughtfully witty lyrics and sunny guitar hooks. On ‘Flame’, Lulu confronts blind consumer culture and shady capitalism by referencing Plato’s Allegory of the Cave over sweet indie-pop guitars, and ‘She Said’ is definitely the strongest song on the album with adrenaline-infused vocals and clever feel-good lyrics. Closing track ‘The Night’ is also a nice feel-good tune, until the vocals come in and ruin it. Since ‘The Night’ has already been released twice in the past two years, it brings the album to an underwhelming end.
With this lack of new material on their debut, which took the band 7 years, it makes me wonder whether they have anything left. It is clear that a lot of hard work and dedicated thought went into the album, and with absolute tunes like ‘She Said’ and ‘Flame’ I’m not surprised the band couldn’t wait to release them. The other tracks in contrast though feel lazy and generic and wouldn’t go unmissed. Perhaps Sundara Karma should scrapped those songs and released the album earlier instead of making fans buy the same tracks twice.