I am in the process of going through all of the stuff that
I’ve been listening to this year and composing my traditional
End of Year compilation. In so doing, I am running across a
lot of music that has been integral and often omnipresent to
my listening in 2003, but that didn’t get reviewed for one reason
or another. These are three albums that fall into that category.
I think the reason they never got reviewed is that, while I
adore all three groups, and while I listened to all three steadily
from point of release until now, none of them are really anything
new or different from what the bands have done before, respectively.
It might make sense to read the reviews in the order I wrote
them. Or not. Whatever.
- Electric Version by The New Pornographers
by The Lucksmiths
- Red Devil Dawn
by Crooked Fingers
If you scamper over to our review of Mass
Romantic, and replace all of the specific references
to the album title with Electric Version, and
make a point to swap out song titles for new ones where referenced,
you’re going to have a basically sound description of the latest
album as well.
This album, like the others i am comparing it to, is slightly
disappointing precisely because of it's predictability. That
said, Electric Version doesn’t get dinged much
at all for sticking close to the near perfect sound that the
band crafted on their first album. I think it’s silly to complain
about “formulaic sound” on only the second release, especially
if the formula is so damned catchy as that of The New Pornographers.
But on another level, one probably needs to ask, why would
bands who have already “found themselves” so to speak, and who
all have rabid fan bases who support them, make changes to their
sounds midstream? Simply to prove they can? That borders perilously
close to beat-the-crap-out-of-the-pretentious-kid for my tastes.
To make sure critics say gushy things about their “willingness
to improvise and push their own boundaries?” Fuck critics. Most
of us are on the wrong side of that same border anyway. Experimentation
and expansion of palette is all fine and good, and I’d hate
to live in a world where no one kept pop music alive
and fluid by injections of the new, but they are not ends of
themselves. Many fine musicians have churned out complete dreck
in the attempt to prove themselves more than “just a pop star,”
to the general detriment of the rest of us.
The point, I guess, is sometimes, you just want a freakin’
cheeseburger. Yes, it’s great to drop by the hole-in-the-wall
Malaysian place for some piping hot pad thai, but you’d be rather
sad if Zesto’s replaced good old number two with anything involving
rice noodles. To me, all three of these bands are basically
cheeseburgers, and while I can understand where some people
might ask, “why can’t they add spicy mustard for a change,”
I am personally fond of your basic yellow mustard in a squeezy-tipped
I believe my metaphor has run away from me. I’ll sum up with
the big sponge assignment as pay off.
Electric Version is a grand album. I give it
six sponges, with a tangible urge to bump it up to seven. The
New Pornographers have taken, fuzzed out, multi-layered guitar
and synth pop and more or less perfected the craft. They very
well may be the best pop band working today. Everyone with a
basic sense of rhythm and melody needs both of their albums.
Go get them if you haven’t already. Track nine of Electric
Version features the best mid-song breakdown since En
Vogue’s Never Gonna Get It, by the way. It is a Cheeburger
Cheeburger with everything, including the bag o’ chips.