A Fragile Tomorrow’s fourth album doesn’t hit the streets until Jan. 8, but we just took a sneak listen and, boy, is it fun. The band’s solid jangle-pop sound is fully intact, but they’ve added a fair amount of ’80s bounce, deeper introspection, and a little sweet melancholy. Though the 14 songs are all strong, the middle of the album really stands out. “Kernersville,” the lead single, starts with a guitar riff that must have time-traveled out of the 1980s — it’s twangy, nostalgic, and oh-so-easy on the ears. The rest of the song lives up to the opening, conjuring up teenage summertime and the bittersweet pain of a broken heart. The retro sound surely owes something to the contribution of the Bangles’ Vicki and Debbi Peterson, whose still-girlish voices can be heard on the chorus. The next song, “Mess You Made,” about a game-playing girlfriend, is simple and clean, giving Sean Kelly’s plaintive vocals plenty of room to shine.
“My Home” is perhaps the record’s standout track: heartfelt, sorrowful, and deeply personal, the song contains lyrics like “I watched my brother die in my home, / my mother’s pleading cries to God, oh, / I lost my faith inside that home, / and now my home is gone.” The song’s autobiographical qualities — bandmembers and brothers Sean, Dominic, and Brendan Kelly lost their brother Paul when they were children — make it an even more poignant listen.
If anyone had any doubts, Be Nice, Be Careful makes it clear that A Fragile Tomorrow’s hit the big leagues. In addition to the Bangles, the album features contributions from Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls as well as iconic producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, who co-produced R.E.M.’s first two LPs in the 1980s. You can stream the album for free here.