Overall Score: 8/10/10 Production: 9/10 Songs: 9/10 : /10 Pros: Their best sounding record since forever with songs of real emotional punch Cons: Don't expect innovation
Sometimes a record comes along that is just the right vibe, the right message, and the right sound at the right time. Seattle’s Band Of Horses have been absent for six years, their last release being Why Are You Ok in 2016, and to be honest it may be longer since we thought about them. Why Are You Ok was indicative of an apparent decline in the bands output. It still sounded like Band Of Horses, but the sparkle and dark glamour of their early releases had very much worn off. Mainman Ben Bridwell has always been an affecting lyricist but the tunes and performances felt wan. Take Found It In A Drawer from Why Are You Ok, with guest co-vocals from Eddie Vedder. It should be a towering piece of emotive rock, full of pathos and soul, but it never quite soars as it should. Then compare that to Lights or Crutch, songs released ahead of Things Are Great, which are both bursting with energy and big room razzamatazz, yet still heartfelt and real.
Things Are Great begins with Warning Signs and the most heart-breaking and resonant opening lines of any record we’ve ever heard; “Small talk with a registered nurse/Not to cry in front of people at work/Well that’s hard, hard, hard, at times you know“. The song is a Bruce Springsteen-esque tale of stubbornness and stoicism in the face of mental health struggles and financial issues, and it feels universal, the small specifics noted in the lyrics adding real power to it’s message. Musically it’s bright and forceful but with an underlying brittleness.
Crutch contains a riff straight out of Johnny Marr‘s top drawer, it reels around the fountain, dizzy, buoyed by light, airy synths. Meanwhile a toxic relationship is described – the traditional ‘crush on you’ replaced, darkly, by a crutch. That dissonance and disconnect between what you’re initially hearing and what is actually being said is a constant throughout the album – you have to read between the lines, see the darkness, don’t fall for the fakery.
Tragedy Of Commons is more restrained, circumspect, but married to the angriest, most directly political lyrics “the hate train pray that it crashes“. Not every song is obviously a heavy trip though as Lights is a seemingly slight tale of trespass and a run in with the cops. Told over a groovy riff with a galloping pace it feels heroic, bordering on ecstatic, but really that might just be the adrenaline kicking in at the sight of the shotgun.
You Are Nice To Me has the bells, whistles, and clanking pink robots maximalist production of The Flaming Lips and it’s no surprise to see Dave Fridmann had a hand in proceedings. There’s also a ukelele lead and high, angelic multi-tracked backing vocals that bring to mind My Morning Jacket, yet again despite all these heavenly surroundings Bridwell is singing “I can’t deny it/ It’s been a hell of a hard time“. Similarly, closing number Coalinga from which the album gets its title, is fantastically upbeat and lush with a South Seas swing that recalls Arcade Fire at their earlier, prettiest moments. If you don’t listen to the words it sounds like he’s praising some hidden Shangri-La, perhaps just a pleasure cruise away, but Bridwell is singing of “…a cow shit smelling hellhole called Coalinga“. Still, it seems like the locals are nice enough. It sounds like the best is being made of a bad situation. It’s all we can ask for on one of the most sarcastically titled records of all time, and yet one of the most beautiful you’ll hear all year.
Things Are Great is available now via BMG.
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