Emarosa – ‘Sting’

By Fiachra Johnston

Following on from a breakout 2019 album which saw a surprising shift in style, ER White and Bradley Walden’s revamped Emarosa have gone from strength to strength, and while a change in style is always a controversial decision, this upheaval was a rather exciting new display from a band trying to move outside what they felt to be a restrictive genre. Now, 3 years on, the duo have committed to seeing how far down the rabbit hole they can go with ‘Sting’, fully embracing their new sound as they combine disco, synth-wave, and alternative sounds. It is disappointing then that after a previously successful foray into pop, Emarosa’s sixth full-length release feels like a backward step in their evolution.

The direction for ‘Sting’ is clear: dreamy, hazy, sun-kissed and seductive, and there’s no lack of funky west coast synth melodies here. ‘Cinnamon’ in particular cranks the smoke machine and laser shows up to 11 for what is a solid introduction to the vision Emarosa have for the record, while ‘Forgiveness’ and its bass makes it an afterparty drive home anthem. Production-wise White’s instrumentation layers nicely with Walden’s vocals, which especially feel at home in the club night vibe of some of these tracks. There’s some issues with flow to the record, at only 34 minutes long tracks never really have the space to properly develop, and the sharp turns between some of these tracks can at times make it feel like a collection of aesthetic experiments rather than one cohesive piece.

What dramatically undercuts the success of ‘Sting’ is how much of the duo’s strengths have been shed in order to properly attain that 80’s sound. Emarosa are all in on this particular vision for the band and the confidence is apparent in so much of the crafting of the album, yet it feels like vital elements to the band’s sound have been dropped. Guitars just don’t have the punch that Emarosa are famous for, even on lighter tracks from ‘Peach Club’ that excelled at blending heavy guitars with more indie pop tracks. This may have been done to lean into the retro aesthetic (ironic, considering how many incredible guitar pieces we take from the 80’s), but when you neuter one of your biggest strengths for the sake of form, there’s a lot of ground to make up for, and often the electronic elements to these tracks don’t have the punch to go the distance. ‘Stay’, the lead single feels like a Weeknd b-side, a track from another artist covered to less success, while the instrumentation and vocals to ‘Again’ just don’t gel well, the electronic elements sounding especially uninspired and flat. So many of these tracks have promise but there isn’t much exploration of the sounds of the decade, no desire to push boundaries, and in removing so much of what made ‘Peach Club’ or ‘Relativity’ exciting there’s a sense of tedium to some of the songs of ‘Sting’.

There are still high points though. The soaring, almost gospel-like chorus from the soul infused ‘Attention’, or the thumping drum line and much needed wailing guitar solo of ‘INLA’, all of it feels more like home territory for the duo and actually compliments the glitter-drenched 80’s aesthetic. When they fully commit to the throwback nature of their understanding of synthpop, like in the explosive Tears for Fears-esque opening to ‘Woman’, there’s some real magic to be had here. Emarosa are not a band emulating a decade for the sake of pastiche or mainstream success, it’s clear there’s a passion for the sound and a lot of love pressed into each song. It’s just a shame nothing really gets ‘going’, the energy of each track petering out before they have a chance to really hit their peak.

Ultimately, the biggest upset of ‘Sting’ is that it’s simply unclear who this record is for. Like with ‘Peach Club’, ‘Sting’ is a bold new direction for the band, perhaps an even sharper turn than its predecessor was, but while a brave attempt to flip the script and create something new that features some well crafted rhythms and throwbacks to 80’s pop, it will fail to win over fans of the indie-pop style of ‘Peach Club’ the original hard rock of old. Neither sadly does Emarosa’s take on retro pop do anything new enough to perk the interest of fans of the genre, leaving it somewhat stuck between three worlds. ‘Sting’ is a fun listen, but unfortunately does not live up to the previous highs the duo have been capable of.


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