Whiplash is starting to feel like a theme of pop in 2017. Lorde defied Max Martin’s pop algebra with the zig-zagging “Green Light,” and now Haim are pulling the rug out from under our feet in the run-up to releasing their second album, Something to Tell You. Last week’s brooding taster track “Right Now” iced an ex who’d come crawling back. It was an understated choice for their big comeback, maybe indicating a rootsier follow-up to 2013’s Days Are Gone—or even, à la Calvin Harris’ earnest Twitter videos of him at the piano, their way of showing off the chops behind their regular pop-locking productions.
“Right Now” was clearly a red herring, or at least only half of the story, as the album’s first proper single, “Want You Back,” pivots in a big way. This time, Danielle Haim’s the one asking for forgiveness from an ex she steamrollered into leaving. It’s fairly brazen to name a song after one of the biggest singles of all time, but unlike the Jackson 5’s charm offensive, there’s a tentativeness to her words. She confesses to being selfish, and outlines the newfound space for someone else in her life. That openness reverberates through “Want You Back”’s verses, which have a Don Henley glimmer and a Christine McVie yearning. But then the chorus swells and shudders like Lindsey Buckingham at his most overheated, sprinkled with jittery digital chatter. Once it hits, Danielle stops explaining herself and pleads her case from the rooftops, backed by her sisters for ballast. On “Want You Back,” Haim’s dueling impulses are a battle played out between the head and the heart.