The British duo Jungle burst onto the music scene in 2014 with their hit song, “Busy Earnin’.” While that single remained in a league above the popularity of the other tracks it accompanied, Jungle’s self-titled freshman album was well-received by critics. Their unique neo-soul/pop-funk sound resonated with fans in both the U.K. and U.S.
On Friday, after a four-year hiatus, the group released their sophomore album, For Ever. While sonically very similar to their first project, with its falsetto lyrics and soulful funkiness, its tone takes a stark departure.
While Jungle didn’t shy away from themes of mindless consumption or willful ignorance, it did so in an almost lighthearted fashion, with a groovy production and danceable beats.
By no means if For Ever any less groovy, but it has a much more muted sound and overall lower energy. In doing this, however, it sacrifices none of its danceability. The funk influences on Jungle punch through in this album, and most songs would never feel out of place in a 1970s disco party. In their four years of refining their musical craft, the duo’s range has made an incredible leap.
One of the biggest criticisms of the first album was that, no matter the theme, every song could be another happy, dancey, top 40 pop hit. Not in this album.
Songs that are sad feel sad. In the 11th track, “Home,” the singer deals with themes of suicide. The depression and the isolation of the singer seeps through the slow, distant sounds. It reveals a growth of maturity in the duo.
After the release of their first album, the duo continued to make music, but, according to an interview with Forbes, they struggled in “learning the vocabulary that [they] wanted to tell [their] story in a way that connected people.” They finally began writing the new album when both members ended long-term relationships near the end of 2016.
In other words, For Ever is a breakup album. To leave it at that, however, would do an injustice to the album.
It’s no secret that Jungle embraces the call of California. After their first album, many critics said they “feel” like a Los Angeles band. For example, in the second track on the album, ”Heavy, California,” the chorus repeats the line “They say heaven’s waiting for you / So I’m headed for California.”
Their longing for Los Angeles manifests itself throughout the album as a beautiful personification of California as the lost partner in the breakup. “Heavy, California” is the best example of this. In the pre-chorus, the singer yearns, “Just hold me, I’m a lonely heart / You’ve been miles away,” as he longs for his supposed lover.
In the chorus, he continues to profess his love for this far away partner, but he gives them the formal name of California, blurring the line between his desire for his partner and his desire for the high life of a Californian musician.
However, the singer’s desires do not come without conflict. In the next track, “Beat 54 (All Good Now),” he admits “I cannot be your whole world/ And sit on the fake grass.” On the one hand, he realizes the effort to maintain a healthy appearance in his relationship, while ignoring the true issues, has become all-consuming.
On the other, he realizes how the limited fame Jungle garnered from their first album created a separate world in which the duo lives at the center.
The anxiety around how the four years since their first album has permanently changed them is probably the central theme of the album. In the fourth track, “Cherry,” the singer repeats the line “You never gonna change me/ I was already changin’.”
It’s an anthem dedicated to accepting the fact that they are not the same people they were four years ago, while acknowledging their control over it.
This track is one of the few instances on the album in which the singer identifies his ability to self-determine his situation as an individual, rather than just acting as a product of his environment.
The expressions and experiences packed into this album that make it so great also turn out to be its greatest fault.
In the end, the duo attempts to pack a tumultuous four years of radical change into 13 tracks in just 45 minutes. The album doesn’t know what it wants to be. It ranges drastically from tracks of empowerment to tracks of rejection, from liberation to imprisonment. There’s so many different themes packed into the album that there is just no room left for the connective tissue that would pull together the story that Jungle is trying to tell.
Despite its flaws, For Ever is still very much worth a listen. Jungle effectively emulates the funk and soul of 70s and 80s Britain, while still sounding modern and innovative.
With its minimalist vocals and fun production, it serves equally well at a party as on a relaxing Sunday evening. I am excited to see where Jungle goes as they continue to refine their craft.