“I was already changing”: a review of Jungle: For Ever

First, take three minutes and five seconds to consider “Busy Earnin'” from Jungle’s first album (Jungle, 2014):

Old news, yes – it’s been four years since the disco funk duo put out their first album. Half of it was easily a solid 9.6/10, like “Busy Earnin’,” and half of it was a fine 6.5, chill and inoffensive but not doing much of anything. I enjoyed the album and have been ready for Jungle 2 for a while.

The problem if you’re a sequel, though, whether movies or music or anything else – you can be as good as the first one and people won’t love you as much, simply because you’re following a good act. You have to keep something of the old you at the same time as you become something completely new.

Jungle’s first two singles in four years, released a few months ago, were “Happy Man” and “House in LA.” “Happy Man” was fine, felt like the band was playing it safe, just following the formula with slightly more cynical mood. “House in LA” let me down the first time I heard it, sounding like more of the same tracks I didn’t love from the first album.

But “House” grew on me fast – I found that it went somewhere and carried more real emotional weight than what we’d heard before. Promising.

Heavy, California” and “Cherry” came next. They proceeded to improve on everything, widening Jungle’s musical horizon and maintaining “House”‘s depth. They got me excited about the potential of the whole record.

Today, For Ever is finally out.

Brief review: Jungle kept the great 9.6 things at 9.6  and brought the “meh” 6.5 bits up to 11. The album’s phenomenal.

The opener, “Smile,” is a stripped-down take on the “Busy Earnin'” formula, like a wink you’re not sure if you saw. “Casio” channels Gorillaz; “(More and More) It Ain’t Easy” simmers deliciously;  “Mama Oh No” starts sitting down and is tearing up the floor by the end of its 3:17 run time. It’s filled with instantly memorable hooks, and, better, there aren’t any tracks that make me say “I kind of wish this wasn’t on here so I didn’t have to skip it.”

On top of the increase in musical variety, there’s more rise and fall in the pacing; more direction; more of a journey. The words are more grounded in the band’s experiences, not just the wishful thinking of their debut: they now have something to say, and are saying it (“When you try, the world moves over, baby / I just want to see you try,” from “Smile”; “You’re never gonna change me / I was already changing,” from “Cherry”). Their optimism isn’t naive; it’s the words of someone who’s been through a lot of negative and still chooses to be positive – “When all your hope is gone, / and you’re still holdin’ on”, as they sing in “Casio.”

My favorite quote from the band on For Ever is by singer Josh Lloyd-Watson in an interview with Forbes: “[W]hat was difficult for us was learning the vocabulary that we wanted to tell our story in a way that connected people, but also be broad enough that they can project their own feelings up that as well.” For Ever succeeds in both, evidencing growth both lyrical and musical.

(It wouldn’t be fair not to mention Jungle’s music videos, old and new. Each is a fresh surprise even when you know what to expect, beautifully choreographed and shot, and you owe it to yourself to watch them all.)

As a whole, the album improves what Jungle already established and resonates on an emotional level, everything a good sequel should be. It keeps the core that made the original great, and brings a new direction that shows that the music is really living, more alive than it was before.

Go buy this album.

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