In small measures the Canadian octet’s latest long-player is great fun.
Andrew Mueller 2010
It seems self-evident that if you put a bunch of talented musicians together, they will come up with great music – just as it appears no less obvious that all you need to do to win football matches is put talented players on the park and let them get on with it. However, just as a team of overpaid athletes will occasionally get turned over by a lesser but better-drilled outfit, so the efforts of putative musical supergroups are often scuppered by ill discipline and a degree of vainglory. The New Pornographers’ fifth studio album, Together, is – to pursue a metaphor to exhaustion – something like watching a lengthy, impressive and pretty succession of passes that rarely lends the impression that anybody is going to score.
The Vancouver-based octet is gathered around Canadian solo artist AC Newman (who writes nine of the 12 songs here) and Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar (who contributes the other three). The best-known other member of the band is justly adored chanteuse Neko Case, whose vocals grace several of the highlights of this ungainly but intermittently inspired album. As if they and their five accomplices weren’t sufficient, they are joined for Together by an array of guests including Beirut’s Zach Condon and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff.
All things considered, it’s unsurprising that so much of Together evokes the taste of soup which has been deliberated over by a surfeit of chefs. In small measures it’s great fun – especially the gleeful stadium glam of Your Hands (Together), the breezy country trundle of Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk and the svelte indie lament of If You Can’t See My Mirrors. Elsewhere, however, far too many potentially good ideas are occluded by clamorous over-elaboration. Valkyrie in the Roller Disco would have been fine as a sparse piano lament in the fashion of Big Star’s Holocaust: the fussy backing harmonies and the gradually introduced band overwhelm it completely.
Closing track We End Up Together simply doesn’t have the melodic strength to support its orchestral backing. Like much of Together, it aims for The Beatles, hits ELO, and sounds like the people responsible mightn’t have thought that was a bad thing.