Cigarettes After Sex’s sophomore effort is a vulnerable and cinematic collection of songs about love, lust, and complicated relationships.
“Cigarettes After Sex” seems like a very particular, yet perfect name for the dream pop band whose sound is more mesmerizing than ever on Cry, the follow-up to their self-titled debut.
Frontman Greg Gonzalez wrote the album as a film about romance, beauty and sexuality, and ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ is the perfect “first scene”. The nostalgic track sees the singer longing for a relationship that is long-lost with a person he is still very much in love with; on the chorus he sings “Come to me now / Don’t let me go / Stay by my side”. It is almost ironic, yet perfectly fitting that the band’s second album would start with a song about a past lover who is impossible to get over.
The theme of unequal love is omnipresent on the album. In fact, the second track ‘Kiss It off Me’ is about exactly that, a unilateral relationship that finds the singer deeply in love with a partner who seems more into other men (“Could you love me instead / Of all the boyfriends you got?”) but is not ready to give up on the pair’s sexual encounters (“Said "It’s a bad time" but you just can’t quit”). On the chorus, Gonzalez is powerless and asks his partner to “Kiss it off [him]”, as the eventual heartbreak seems unavoidable.
‘Heavenly’, the lead single and third track of the album is slightly more uptempo and sounds as dreamy as you would expect. However, the title is clearly about more than just sonics, and is the perfect adjective to describe the singer’s emotions on the song. Although Cry is compared to a film, this track feels more like a painting, fittingly titled Heavenly, as Gonzalez depicts a wonderful moment of intimacy where he is “Giving all [his] love” to his partner. ‘Heavenly’ leaves the listener to wonder whether the singer’s feelings are reciprocated or not, but for the first time on this album, the present is all that matters, as context is hardly important when looking at a masterpiece.
After telling his lover ‘You’re the Only Good Thing in My Life’, the singer comes back to earth and has to deal with complications in his relationship yet again on ‘Touch’. Here context would be welcome, but the singer lets his listener guess what he – or his character – has done, leaving him remorseful and his partner heartbroken. The flawless depiction of the pair’s emotional turmoil and need for each other’s ‘Touch’ is another testament to Greg Gonzalez’s beautifully relatable songwriting abilities.
The sixth track feels like a trip out the real world. Appropriately titled ‘Hentai’ – the overly sexual subgenre of manga –, the record mentions a fortune-telling fantasy character (“About a girl who as soon as she made you cum / Would show you the future”), argues dying “in an airplane crash / Over the ocean” would be “romantic” and draws an animated version of the featured love interest (“Beautiful hearts are in your eyes”). But aside from all the fictional images, the singer’s trip is punctuated by – and ends with a simple and honest chorus (“I’ve been waiting for you to fall for me / And let me in your life / I’ve been waiting for you”).
The title track sees Cigarette After Sex’s frontman on the other side of an unbalanced relationship, as he cannot faithfully commit to the lyrics’ recipient and warns them about the painful end to their story (“My heart just can’t be faithful for long / I swear I’ll only make you cry). While the singer’s mentioned faithfulness seems emotional rather than plainly sexual, ‘Cry’ does remind the listener of ‘Touch’, this plays into the wider and consistent theme of the album. The contrast between the narrator’s points of view of in ‘Cry’ and ‘Kiss it Off Me” is very interesting to point out and gives a more complex flow to the album’s “script”.
‘Falling in Love’, second to last song on the tracklist, conveniently tells the story of two people in the early stages of a relationship. This is probably the most hopeful songwriting you will find on Cry and a beautiful predecessor to the album’s conclusion. The aforementioned outro is another example of perfectly yet ironically named records; despite the very erotic content, its lyrics do feel ‘Pure’, because the singer seems to finally be in a healthy and loving relationship.
The album ends on a way more positive note than it starts, strengthening the film comparisons. And although Gonzalez says Cry stitches different characters and scenes together, it does feel like the journey of a unique character who, like most real and fictional human beings, struggles with life and love. Indeed, the tale starts with unreciprocated feelings for a past love interest (‘Don’t Let Me Go’) and indecisive partner (‘Kiss It off Me’), then sees its main character going through ups (‘Heavenly’) and downs (‘Touch’, ‘Cry’), until finally feeling fulfilled and possibly happy (‘Falling In Love’, ‘Pure’), a happy ending typical of American blockbusters. Whether that was Gonzalez’s intention matters not, real art is always up for interpretation, that is what makes Cry such an appreciable album. Cigarettes After Sex thus cement their place in music, and more generally in art, with lyrics that can be deeply analyzed, in an age of more superficial songwriting.
Sonically the album is extremely cohesive, and takes the listener to the beaches of Mallorca, where the instrumentals were created. Cry’s production is undeniably dreamy and could fit a wide range of moods, during situations like a chilly winter day in or beautiful summer evening.