“Tough Love” does so much so effortlessly in its first 15 seconds that a casual listener may not hear much more than an intriguing mood. But check it out: first the brisk minor key guitar strum, at once mellow and urgent; then the slightly dissonant second guitar line (harsher and crunchier but also somewhat distant); then–out of left field but instantly perfect–the wistful, Bacharachesque horn motif (and that could be a keyboard sounding like a horn, but no matter). It’s an extraordinarily compact introduction; Richard Bivens begins singing, with the compellingly blasé tone of any number of great rock’n’roll singers–at 0:16. Better believe I’m listening.
The opening’s terrific atmosphere sustains. This is one of those unusual pop songs in which the chorus is less catchy than the other elements, and truly this seems part of the plan–as Bivens repeats “I can’t shake it,” I can just about feel the physical gesture suggested and it’s not supposed to be entirely pleasant. Everything works together here; in fact, I’m half convinced one reason the music withdraws a bit in the chorus is to give us a chance to ponder the curious lyric Bivens left us hanging with: “You used to take off your clothes/You used to curl up your toes with me.”
“Tough Love” is as song off the L.A.-based band’s debut album, At Night You Love Me, which was self-released last month.