Album Review: The New Pornographers – Together
Its taken 13 years, 5 quality albums and 8 indie all-stars, but The New Pornographers have finally reached the status of untouchable. Like fellow indie-rockers Yo La Tengo, they’ve simply contributed too much solid music to the often-flighty indie music scene to allow their legacy to be swept away in the flick of an acerbic critic’s typing-hand.
So reviewing The New Pornos is something of a hazard – the fond memories of all those times you’ve gracelessly jived around your kitchen to the sweet sugar-rush of ‘The Laws Have Changed’, roaring along to Neko’s part, a wooden spoon as your microphone (or was that just me?) are bound to colour your opinion somewhat. All through that nerve-wracking journey from your carrier-bag (or preferred download site) to your ears, you’re willing for this album to be good, to be a worthy addition to the band’s weighty canon – a luxury inapplicable to newer acts. A little unfair, yes, but this particular brand of bias doesn’t go unfounded.
Take latest single ‘Crash Years’ – an expertly-executed example of indie rock, The New Pornos swell from a few softly jangling guitars, a rumbling, cello line and Neko’s pleasingly melodramatic warble into something nuclear-fuelled, exhilarating and wholly their own. And it has a whistle breakdown. What’s better than a whistle breakdown? Indie also-rans, take note from the pros: this is how it’s done.
And the lovely Dan Bejar – always a marmite member of The New Pornos, his mealy-mouthed lyrical tangents always seeming a little wilfully obtuse to those who favoured The New Pornos for their sugar-fuelled power-pop- shines on the infernally catchy ‘Silver Jenny Dollar’; his pleasingly simple refrain of ‘She was only ever passing through, she’s only ever passing through’ giving way to the sunshine-laden, Neko-case assisted chorus of ‘Silver Jenny Dollar, la la la la!.’ It’s the most joyful thing you’ll have heard all year, and hints at plenty more singing-into-your-kitchen-utensils moments with The New Pornos in the near future.
But really, ‘Together’ is the Neko Case show – and rightly so, the crimson-haired songbird is in possession of one of the most mind-blowingly majestic voices in indie-rock, putting her female counterparts with their cloying lisps to shame. And she’s never sounded finer than on the stellar ‘My Shepherd’, her remarkable pipes switching seamlessly from an intimate coo to a full-throated croon with enviable deftness. Although the refrain of ‘You’re my lord, you’re my shepherd’ is a little creepy – it’s unclear to whether The New Pornos are attempting to break into the elusive indie strain of the religious music genre, or are just utilising an incredibly creepy metaphor for a relationship; both are sufficiently unsettling – it’s still one of the album’s highlights.
However, ‘Together’ still plays host to some clunkers – take closer ‘We End Up Together’, where The Pornos rein in some overly-fiddly baroque arrangements in a desperate attempt to hide the fact that ‘We End Up Together’ is something unheard of in The Porno’s canon – a pretty damn weak tune. Even some mildly entertaining call-and-responses between Neko and Newman can’t save this car-wreck. And at six minutes long, it’s like being stuck in chirpy indie hell. I predict you’ll sit through three minutes before clawing at your hair and begging for some Sunn-O))) or Jay-Z. Save yourselves while you can.
But still, after 13 years, a little creative drought is to be expected. ‘Together’ is a perfectly palatable album from a remarkably consistent band. Yeah, it’s no ‘Electric Version’, but nobody’s expecting it to be. Just sit back, and enjoy the fact that The New Pornographers aren’t even close to stopping yet.