Pretty Girls Make Graves - The New Romance (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Pretty Girls Make Graves

The New Romance (2003)

Matador Records

For a little while there, Pretty Girls Make Graves really had something going. Just a year after dropping the amazing Good Health, the closest humans have ever come to producing a sequel to Discount's Crash Diagnostic, the band returned in 2003 with an equally stunning record, The New Romance. But within that year, the band had already evolved beyond the punk/emo sound it rode in on, gravitating more towards indie rock (or at least, the kind of indie rock that would have been called emo in the '90s). Even the band's taste in labels reflected the change, as PGMG jumped from Lookout! to Matador.

That growth proved to be for the best. Good Health was a great album, all ramped up with angst, longing and fury, but it's doubtful the band could have repeated that formula successfully. New Romance found the members tinkering with how they expressed themselves. The emotions are still very much on their sleeves (Sample lyric: "Hello / I'm neurotic / Creating problems that don't exist," from "Blue Lights"), but the music strives for something darker, moodier, more atmospheric. Whatever pop-punk tendencies the band held are sublimated, although they do crop up every so often.

There's still some punk here. "The Grandmother Wolf" is a solid second track, packing a big chorus over big guitars. "All Medicated Geniuses" is another track begging to be shouted. While the band's next record, Élan Vital, lost that kind of exuberance in favor of mood, The New Romance nicely balances the two directions.

That's partially because the record has some push/pull going for it, something that didn't really happen on Good Health, which was pretty much just "on" all the time. That's why the band can separate enthusiastic tracks "All Medicated Geniuses" and "Chemical, Chemical" with "Blue Lights," a song so dark and depressing that its bassline sounds like it's from the Cure's Pornography.

New Romance hasn't quite been canonized like some other records from the early aughts (At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command, Bear vs. Shark's Right Now, You're in the Best of Hands…), but it certainly deserves a spot. It's just as passionate, just as explosive. A bit tempered, perhaps, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of restraint.