That dreaded second album. Do you try to recapture the sound and feeling of the first record, which almost never works, or do you try to move ahead to something entirely new? The Boy Least Likely To take the former route on their sophomore album, The Law of the Playground, and for the most part it works out pretty well. It doesn't reach the same giddy heights as their debut, The Best Party Ever, but that would have been a lot to ask. That record's wonderfully innocent blend of indie pop sweetness, child-like wonder, low-key fun, and inspired songwriting isn't the sort of thing that can be easily replicated, and the two best songs, "Hugging My Grudge" and "Be Gentle with Me," were the kind of songs bands are lucky to write once, much less top. That being said, the Boy give it their best shot here, and the best two songs, the melancholy "A Balloon on a Broken String" and the ultra-bouncy "When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade," are very good pop tunes indeed. Wisely, the duo of Jof Owen (lead vocals) and Peter Hobbs (most instruments) retains the aspects that worked best on the debut, like their wide-eyed lyrical slant, the use of cute instruments like banjos and vintage synths, and the simple but almost maddeningly catchy melodies. They also add loads of friends helping out on various instruments and vocals (including actress Rashida Jones, who had appeared in the video for "Be Gentle with Me") to help bolster the record's sound. Which leads us to the main problem. The homemade, two guys and a couple friends approach has changed to two guys and a ton of people recording in a fancy studio, and it shows. The album falls just on the far side of slick, and a few of the questionably twee songs like "Stringing Up Conkers" or "Every Goliath Has Its David," which would have sounded cute and charming before, now sound overcooked and cloyingly sugary. A little less studio craft would have improved The Law of the Playground quite measurably and possibly put it on the same level as Best Party, since the songcraft and performances are nearly equal. Maybe next time out the two will get back to the simplicity that made them so appealing to begin with, and the resulting album won't have the faint tinge of disappointment that The Law of the Playground has.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra