After an array of musical and label mishaps, including rebranding to Push Baby from Rixton, losing two members of the quartet and then a record deal all during the pandemic, the now-duo is finally releasing its first album, Wow, Big Legend. The British pair, consisting of Jake Roche and Charley Bagnall, is likely known to 2010s pop radio listeners for 2014 single “Me and My Broken Heart.” It reached No. 1 in the U.K. and went gold in the U.S. But despite the initial success, the label fallout ultimately resulted in Push Baby finishing the album in their moms’ garages and self-releasing it.
In fall 2020, before the release of the first single “Holding On Is Holding You Back,” the third Rixton member departed. The band that would become Push Baby decided to rewrite its songs without regard for its previous label’s input. Fortunately, the result is a much more personal and sonically wide-ranging take on pop music, with squelchy electric guitars, distorted vocals, pop culture and personal influences mixing together. It’s pop that veers into PC music.
Push baby begins the album with its incantation of a TV show opening. Narrated by broadcaster Eamonn Holmes, the title track is layered with alarms and sirens blaring, which, during the first listen, could also find a home on a Disneyland ride. “What you are about to experience you may or may not have experienced before, This is a journey,” he says, his voice warping and distorted. The album progresses in style from there and effectively gives the duo more individual personality and room for artistic exploration than before. See “Man In His Bedroom,” where Roche and Bagnall play with spoken word. “I pray you never grow up for as long as you live/ I pray you think about the things that you miss/ The things that you went through to get to things you did,” they speak, over a mid-tempo beat.
There’s still elements of the boy band pop persona they developed with Rixton, especially on tracks like “That Boy,” though it’s also intentionally inspired to sound like a One Direction B-side. On “Wasted Love,” which was originally written by Rixton, the quiet strumming and repetitive chorus sound like they would’ve been sung in the harmony of the others. But single “CRY/ TALK ABOUT IT” features heavy distortion and AutoTune, as Push Baby takes a Yeezy-esque approach with aggressive lyric delivery and warping, banging sounds. It’s a little jarring, but the duo is having fun.
Push Baby slows things down on the second half of the album for a more breezy, less PC music feel.There’s less noice and fewer voice modulations here. “Wishing We Were More Than Friends” was written and produced as a last-minute addition after Bagnall sent the track to Roche one Friday and they worked its style out all weekend. Its chorus is a little sappy but it’s not immature. And on “Aegean,” the two sing in an intimate, Ed-Sheeran-like style over light guitar strumming.
Wow, Big Legend concludes with single “Holding On Is Holding You Back,” where Roche rap-sings in what appears to be stream of consciousness about endeavors with labels and workshopping songs for radio appeal. “And then came a couple of years where I was lost/ I was bumming around/ Reminiscing about the top of the pops saying/ “Hey! I made it once, I got to the top!”/ “Yeah, and now you’re depressed just because you got dropped,” they sing, driving their frustrations home.
It’s not a perfect record, but it’s clear these musicians are finally heading in the direction of their liking. And that’s how music should be.