Partner’s In Search of Lost Time is a celebration of young adulthood and those times where you know you should be trying to get your shit together, but life is too weird.
[dropcap]Musically[/dropcap], the duo is the least complicated way to achieve your vision while not being a total loner. A little compromise with a willing musical partner in crime can create real magic. Competition between musical duos, most famously displayed by The Beatles, can lead to brilliance. The Barenaked Ladies have probably never been considered “brilliant”, but Steven Page and Ed Robertson were without doubt a dynamic duo; they could also write great pop songs. They were total goofs that were able to infuse their songs with playfulness, jokes, and pop culture references without losing any heart. Their debut album, Gordon, had three top 20 hits in Canada and three more that cracked the top 100. The album itself spent eight weeks at number 1 on the Canadian album charts. But, “If I Had $1,000,000” isn’t a hypothetical anymore, at least for Robertson, and the Canadian music world has long been deprived of a pair of young songwriters who can effectively weave their levity into well-crafted songs.
In a just world–or perhaps if was still the 90s–it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Partner’s debut album In Search of Lost Time scoring at least as many hits as BNL did twenty-five years ago. Lucy Niles and Josée Caron display a chemistry over these twelve, hyper-catchy, crunchy and deceptively simple bangers that most musicians can only dream of having with another. Their friendship features as a character in many of the songs on In Search of Lost Time, to the point where it feels like you’re third wheeling with them on a personal weekend.
There are three main components that make ISOLT great: the skits, the songs, and the solos. I’m sure many listeners won’t bother with the skits, but they do a great job of contextualizing the duo’s collective personality and fervent ambition; they take their craft damn seriously, and if their wildest dreams were fulfilled they would be the biggest band in the world.
They don’t, however, take themselves seriously. Lucy pitches a middle-fingers-up promo shot to photographer Colin Medley, who does his best to take her request seriously while at the same time trying not to say “definitely not”, even though it’s clear she is just fucking with him; You’ve Changed label boss Steve Lambke also gets punk’d into having to deny Partner’s request to have a drawing of Melissa Etheridge on the cover; Josée’s dad serves as a motivator and guide in the latter half of the album reassuring his daughter that “the world needs a good band right now…like Kiss”. And he is probably right! Is Partner that band? Maybe! It depends what the world loved about Kiss. If it was the make-up and the ludicrous theatrics, we are out of luck. BUT, if what people loved about Kiss were the singalongs and the guitar solos, Partner are a worthy contender for their own army.
Guitar solos are, or have been, out of style for a long time. No one told Partner about this. The most thrilling moments on ISOLT are almost all guitar solos. “Embassador to Ecstasy” features TWO solos more impressive and elevating than just about any big “rock” song you’ve heard on the radio in recent years. “Gross Secret” features a brief guitar crescendo that makes the stand-out track stand out that much more. The “Daytime TV” solo turns one of the goofier tracks on the album into an ecstatic celebration of the freedom a young person can find in those glorious few hours between the end of school and the end of the work day. Even if you push past the solos, the lead guitar parts in general are raw and emotional in a way that the lyrics often are not, especially on “Remember This” and “Sex Object”. Partner have taken something that is generally viewed as funny or silly and made it the most serious (and seriously awesome) aspect of their sound.
Of course, the solos would be unwelcome if the songs themselves weren’t so strong. Between the guitar work, the harmonies, and the chorus melodies, Partner writes songs that are like those little bags of chips you buy from vending machines: a completely satisfying portion, but you’re usually willing to fork over the change for some more. Like the Barenaked Ladies, Niles and Caron employ subtle rhythmic and lyrical tricks in the verses of “Everybody Knows” and “Ambassador to Ecstasy” that are way smarter than the songs’ subject matter. “Creature in the Sun” is the most unique sounding track on the record and also one of the best. “Play the Field” sounds like the gay Canadian answer to The Darkness’s “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” or “Stacey’s Mom” and could be as ubiquitous, again, if there is any justice in this world. “Gross Secret” and “Sex Object”, songs ostensibly about “the grossness that unites us all” and finding a “sex thing” while snooping in a roommate’s room, may be laughable in premise, but the songs as whole are weirdly anthemic and moving thanks to the simple but powerful chorus harmonies. By the end of the record, some songs begin to blur (or sound eerily similar to any other band that kinda sounds like Weezer), but this is a common symptom of a band that leaves nothing on the table; this is their shot, and they may as well pack as many hooks, jokes, and solos in as possible.
There is a yearning for youth on In Search Of Lost Time. Songs about being too stoned, about earning a licence to chill, about daytime TV. It’s not nostalgic yearning, though. Instead, it sounds like a band who have swung for the fences in hopes that if they write good enough songs about those very things they wish to hold on to, they will actually get to hold on to them. It’s also a celebration of young adulthood and those times where you know you should be trying to get your shit together, but life is too weird. As Josee’s Dad reliably assures them at the end of the record, there are people who are hungry for this stuff. Time will tell if Partner become the voice of a generation, but what is damn sure is that In Search of Lost Time should have at least as many hits as Gordon. These days, the world really does need a good band to distract us from the misery and remind us that life and music can be fun. We need a band like Partner.