Dan is having some WordPress issues, so he asked me to post his review of this week’s album.
I missed the rise of the The New Pornographers. During the early 2000s, I was listening to NPR news programs and MP3s of songs and bands I already knew. Blissfully unaware of The New Pornographers, I had no idea who they were or what they sounded like. I suppose I probably heard a few of their songs somewhere mixed into a soundtrack or something, but they were a nullity to me until Robin chose this album for our series of reviews.
On first listen, I got distracted by the gloss and didn’t really hear the music. In my own defense, this is slick power pop, perfect for background music while you’re driving or focusing on other things. It’s pretty and it’s energy – you don’t need to pay attention to enjoy this album. You can skip along the surface of this album in a way that you simply cannot with something like Lucinda Williams yowling over a steel guitar.
By the second listen, though, I started to appreciate what is going on here. This is a group of hardworking, talented musicians who know how to put a song together. In the second song, Champions of Red Wine, I felt like they were calling me out:
We’ve waves to root for
You’re coming over
You’ve done your research
It has the force of water
And we’ve got a lot here
There is a lot there. The band is packed – guitars, synthesizer, drums, harmonies, bass, lush production, etc.. At 8 members, this is not a band to hire for your house party. The album comes across like the big project that it was – no corners cut, no expenses spared, no off notes tolerated.
Soul music this is not. If you played this album in a Mississippi blues joint, the place might collapse – or, to make the metaphor more accurate, it might explode from the energy and buoyancy packed into this album. This is car music, meant to be played on a summer day with the windows down. It’s not something you would sit down in your easy chair to sip whiskey or even chamomile tea to.
That’s not to say that the album is shallow or inane, because it isn’t. There is a joy that pervades the music, but the penultimate song on the album warns:
You’ve proved your poison is more than noise
And the joy’s addictive although restrictive
Fan baby beware, I’m not always square
By no means is this a deeply poetic album to be parsed for meaning like an early Dylan bootleg or a Joan Baez number, but songs like “War on the East Coast” and “Another Drug Deal of the Heart” keep the album from being lightweight dance music, to be spun and forgotten.
I’ll be going back to listen to the albums of The New Pornographers that I missed during the start of the century. That’s one of the reasons I am so enjoying the project of choosing new albums to listen to on a mostly-weekly basis. It’s too easy to get calcified listening to great musicians like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, while totally ignoring the bands who are doing new things brilliantly.
Next up: Diploid Love, by Brody Dalle