Unless we’re all expected to grade future OLP albums on a curve, this effort by the venerable Canadian band can only be seen as a bitterly disappointing pill to swallow.
Our Lady Peace – “Curve” (2012, Warner)
As a long-time fan of Raine Maida’s music, I give him a lot of credit for being willing to push his band in varied directions over the years even when they were internationally dismissed as being just another Nickelback — alt-rock by the numbers. The band’s early albums from 1994’s Naveed through 2000’s Spiritual Machines stand among the best of the genre. They’ve simply lost their way somewhat in the current decade, as their shifting sounds frequently take a back seat to Maida’s off-kilter political diatribes.
Having interviewed both Maida and the other members of the band separately, I have the distinct impression that the two sides don’t necessarily always work in concert, which may explain albums like Burn Burn and Curve, which suffer from overblown lyrics and a sense that the musicians involved are treading water. The more control Maida has wrestled away from the band’s record companies, the freer he’s been to bog down these albums in sanctimonious bloat and lyrical nonsense, leaving the other members to simply come along for the ride. Maida has said Curve was an attempt to go back to the sounds they’ve mined on Clumsy and Spiritual Machines, but the music lacks the strong concept of the latter, and the hooks never come close to the former.
“Fire In The Henhouse” and “Heavyweight” provide the closest thing the album has to a decent pop-rock hook, and both are bogged down by indecipherable lyrical bloat: “Fire in the hen-house, protests in the deep south … it’s Shangri-La in reverse, time to call the wet-nurse,” Maida sings on “Henhouse,” before bogging us down in the chorus, rhyming change with accelerate, hesitate and calculate in an oddly syncopated stutter-step of banality. No one’s going to sing along with this, or likely even remember it beyond a casual listen.
And “Heavyweight” collapses beneath the forced metaphors of boxing and a world on fire, never really gelling around a concept listeners can fall behind. The chorus, where all should fall together, is a mess of babble: “When all these stars hit the ground, they’ll wake us; we fight not to be weightless.” Even a veteran of Raine-speak has to be baffled hearing him compare this to the depth and experimentalism of Spiritual Machines when there’s nothing to the bulk of the album to back up that comparison. It’s depressing to think he’s so far from reality, imagining this work is even close to on par with the albums which supposedly inspired it.
From there, Curve never finds its footing. These ten songs try to say something worthy of a repeat listen, but continually flop around as they struggle to suck air. “As Fast As You Can” tries to combine TV on the Radio with Arcade Fire with a stunningly toothless hook. “I’ve got a girl got a long snake moan,” he sings. “Got the voodoo in her hips and a God-shaped hole. I’ve got a feeling that the kids don’t know. What the kids don’t know the kids don’t mind, we all work on borrowed time.” Ugh, what a hot mess. If this is the best he can muster maybe it is time for Maida to hang up his pen for a bit and let someone else in the band a try. It can’t get much worse.
“I could be the greatest accident,” Maida sings on “If This Is It,” the album’s closest thing to a “Car Crash” or “4 AM” moment. “I just want to breathe you in.” Those of us who have followed the band for years, we have to hope the band still has something more to say, looking to the future more than they look so depressingly at their past, unable to recreate what made them tick in the first place. Unless we’re all expected to grade future OLP albums on a curve, this effort by the venerable Canadian band can only be seen as a bitterly disappointing pill to swallow.
Year of the Album — #089
Will Currie and the Country French – “Awake, You Sleepers!” (2011, File Under: Music)
These songs show a distinct vision for what pop can become, a far-reaching panorama of music aimed at adults who have discerning musical palates and are willing to support a band for daring to aim high. Awake, You Sleepers! is a winning combination of daring and verve.
This is among the best pop albums of 2011, for those of you out there who felt pop was a dead art. A winning combination of daring and verve, Will Currie and the Country French aim for the fences and succeed largely because, when all is said and done, the music is beyond reproach. Read the full review at PopMatters.
Year of the Album — #071
The Darcys – “The Darcys” (2011, Arts & Crafts)
This isn’t sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs music, but the melodies of these songs are perfectly matched to the intended mood, and the resulting mix is an inspiring blend of polished pop and more avant garde experimentation.
This is definitely a discovery I would not have made had I not been writing for PopMatters, as this album came through one of their connections. But I must say, despite the fact that the band has to date done little to build a name for itself here in the States, the Darcys have stumbled on a sound which is likely to make them household names if they can get their blend of pop and experimentation into our collective headphones. You can read the full review at PopMatters.
Year of the Album — #062
Matthew Good – “Lights of Endangered Species” (2011, Universal)
Matthew Good has never become much of a force in the US, despite his music being legendary in Canadian alternative music circles for two decades. Much like fellow Canadian rocker Raine Maida, of Our Lady Peace, Good’s music has had to find more of a niche audience in America, but the music above all else has maintained an incredible depth of quality through the years. On Lights of Endangered Species, his fifth and potentially final solo album, the varied strains of his musical genius have come together in an act of total sonic combustion, and the result is nothing short of phenomenal. This is a budding mid-year contender for my favorite album of the year, and it’s Good’s best work to date.
Good has always been a lyrical beast, the background music taking a backseat to his indelible bend of cultural commentary and raw vitriol. With Lights of Endangered Species, he has shifted his focus to the music itself, and these arrangements burst out of the speakers as the most incredible arrangements he’s ever had to back his vocals. Fully orchestrated in a way he’d attempted to achieve since forming the concept during the mid nineties, these are complex, fully developed sonic palates on which he can paint subtlely with his words. The result is his best-developed album, providing long-term listeners with the perfect album he’s frequently hinted at but never quite managed to deliver.
From the opening drum and piano strains of “Extraordinary Fades,” it is monumentally clear that this, if it is sadly to be his last album, is certainly Good’s masterpiece. His haunting vocals work their way in and out of the tense strings and thundering bass: “Lie and say to me extraordinary fades,” he begs, and the music swells to envelop him with open arms. He sings of his battle with bipolar disorder on “What If I Can’t See The Stars, Mildred?” spitting the words with raw power over bass and piano, building to a thundering climax. “If I look crazy, wonder what the fuck’s with everyone?” he snarls. “Do you walk out the door? Baby you gotta do what you gotta do. I end my day, picture a house on fire … on fire … on fire.” It’s a raw, blistering cut to the quick, and Good’s up to the challenge. The result is an example of concept meeting perfectly with execution, forming a track I personally won’t soon forget.
If I haven’t sold you on this album to this point, it’s not going to happen. Move along, rejoin your quiet existence and forget that Matthew Good was ever spoken of. The rest of you reading out there should immediately find a copy of this album as quickly as you can. Dig into it voraciously, listen to the songs up close and personal, give the music a chance to assert itself and prove the true depth of this magnificent album. Matthew Good has outdone himself with Lights of Endangered Species, an album which is going to prove for years to come why he’s been one of the few true musical geniuses of the last twenty years. If this is his last, it is worthy exit music and one of the best albums you’ll hear from anyone in 2011.