Following an extended hiatus, Danish pop outfit Alphabeat return with their brightly smiling fourth album, 2019's Don't Know What's Cool Anymore. The album arrives seven years after 2012's Express Non-Stop, and finds them in a buoyant if self-reflective mood, looking back upon their career and reevaluating their place as grown-ups in the modern pop landscape. Having originally started out in their early twenties as a scrappy, retro-leaning '80s new wave-influenced band with 2007's This Is Alphabeat, the group reached an apex with 2009's The Spell, which found them embracing a dance-oriented, '90s R&B sound. The album spawned several hit singles and earned them the Danish Music Award for Danish Group of the Year. Express Non-Stop followed in 2012, after which they decided to take some time off. Away from the group, singer Stine Bramsen recorded a solo album, and bandmates Anders SG and Anders Bønløkke formed the electronic-duo THANKS. One gets the sense that the group's meteoric rise, especially in Europe, brought both creative and career pressures, and the time apart seems to have been much needed in order for the band to refuel their artistic engine. There's an easygoing, unfettered quality to the music on Don't Know What's Cool Anymore, as if they might have worked the songs out on the fly in the studio. In some ways, the album has the most in common with the group's early work, and cuts like the title track, "Shadows," and "Back of My Bike," evince a retro, '80s-style soulfulness that definitely sticks in your head. Elsewhere, they take a left-turn into rousing countrified rock on "Sometimes," with Bramsen's voice evoking early-'80s Dolly Parton. Similarly, they draw upon '70s singer/songwriter pop with "Sing a Sing," a track that details their rise from exuberant teenage indie-poppers to jet-setting pop stars. They sing, "Got a U.K. deal before we finished school/moved to East London and tried to be cool/Top Ten felt like picking a cherry/wearing free sneaks in the pub with Katy Perry." Don't Know What's Cool Anymore is a surprisingly organic production that stands in direct contrast to the highly curated aesthetic of their other 2000s work. The sugary pop highs are balanced by breezy album tracks that feel like the band are singing directly to their fans. Alphabeat might not know what's cool in the pop world as they settle into their thirties, but they know who they are.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar