The New Pornographers
he New Pornographers are a pop band. They come clean with us from the beginning, what with pop essentially being musical pornography. No hooks are spared in this album, documenting a full-throttle pop offensive. Frontman Carl Newman guides this Canadian group through twelve pop tunes. All contributors to this group are somewhat well-known through their past and current musical adventures, supposed geniuses in their own right, but this is where the concept falls flat. Mass Romantic is an example of undeveloped ideas spread thinner under the guise of democracy.
An interesting feature of this album is that it has multiple vocalists, rather than the safe indie-pop route of one singer per band. In addition to Carl Newman’s nondescript tenor, Destroyer Daniel Bejar lends his personable squeak to the proceedings, as does Canadian country diva Neko Case. Though the credits boast instrumental contributions from similar Canadian elite, it is unlikely we would be able to discern the style of one Canadian indie-rock keyboardist from another.
Neko Case’s vocal contributions to ‘Letter from an Occupant’ and the disc’s title track are the album’s standouts. Newman’s brand of production complements her reserved squeak, which is a bit less abrasive than on her solo records. These two songs boast brilliant melodies, imparted to us by smart combinations of keyboards and guitars. Though the songs make a great first impression with brilliant melodies and layered ideas, their appeal does not last, as the songs are quick to reveal their patchwork inconsistencies.
Dan Bejar does not fare as well. His main piece ‘Jackie’ is a sloppy, shambling mess. The song works its way through Bejar mumbling nothing in particular about some disillusioned girl. The tone is rather infantile, especially for Bejar’s usually brilliant work. The song eventually ends up with the ensemble repeating the lyric ‘Are you going to start the sunshine?’. There is no way that this song could be justified as any sort of redeemable art, and ends up just upsetting.
It is later songs, like ‘Execution Day’ that the Pornographers’ formula begins to grow laughable. One begins to recognize the pop patterns, which are beginning to feel more forced and less authentic. The melody is lethargic and sappy, the lyrics are dull, and the production begins to gnaw at one’s well-being. In short, songs like this are filler. The song ‘Wild Homes’ begins as a duet with Bejar and Case, soon devolving into a quasi-show tune kitsch-fest.
The New Pornographers seem like a good idea: put five Canadian indie rockers together and see what they come up with, what could go wrong? Plenty of things. Too many misdirected ideas weigh this album down, but that’s democracy for you.
Reviewed by: Tyler Martin
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01