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The Polyphonic Spree – Like Slugging a Care Bear in the Gut

Posted by January 23rd, 2005 No Comments »

Album Review
Polyphonic Spree
Together We’re Heavy
By Aaron Burkhalter

I’m conflicted when it comes to the Polyphonic Spree. The appearance of such a novel and unique act is always welcome, but all too often, novel crosses into novelty and Tim DeLaughter’s merry band of rainbow love children push that fine line to its breaking point.

Poly’s newsworthy antics and showmanship aside, it’s easy to see why the band took off so well. Their music is downright infectious. The orchestra pop styling bears easy resemblance to the Flaming Lips, Brian Wilson,

Album Review
Polyphonic Spree
Together We’re Heavy
By Aaron Burkhalter

I’m conflicted when it comes to the Polyphonic Spree. The appearance of such a novel and unique act is always welcome, but all too often, novel crosses into novelty, and Tim DeLaughter’s merry band of rainbow love children push that fine line to its breaking point.

Poly’s newsworthy antics and showmanship aside, it’s easy to see why the band took off so well. Their music is downright infectious. The orchestra pop styling bears easy resemblance to the Flaming Lips, Brian Wilson, and, god help us, Electric Light Orchestra (yeah, I’ve heard “Mr. Blue Sky,” but I’ve also heard “Roll Over Beethoven”).

I’ll admit it, “Hold Me Now” and “Suitcase Calling” have tugged at my musical heartstrings, and as much as I’d like to rip apart their nothing-is-funny-about-peace-love-and-understanding lyrics, it feels akin to slugging a Care Bear in the gut and running away. The lyrics lie on the border between endearing and corny, with songs of peace and siblinghood and adulation for the environment. Yes folks, if Tim DeLaughter had a hammer, he too would hammer in the morning, the evening, and all over this land.

There are some monster gems to be sure on Together We’re Heavy, once you weed through all of the “selling points” that market the band. Past the robes and psychedelia, there’s some pretty music and an effective use of choir like nothing else in the world of pop.

As any fan of the Polyphonic Spree will most likely tell you, there’s some love put into this album. It’s evident in not only the empathetic life-is-hard-sometimes-but-the-sun-still-shines lyrics, but in the orchestration and heart swelling composition. The Spree plays with the listeners’ emotions like a high school crush; with little effort at all they’ll leave you sighing.

There’s also definite development in orchestration since the first album. DeLaughter’s compositions have gained a new sense of dynamics, ranging from quieter sound to small-town-destroying sonic booms. Their only crutch is their dependency on cadence and crescendo throughout, holding fast to the notion that any good song requires a cathartic explosion.

I hold DeLaughter accountable for just a few things. Despite the musical growth, not one track on this album holds a candle to “Soldier Girl” from their debut. All the compositional improvement still pales in comparison to the otherwise simplistic hit song. On the opposite end, they have shied away from anything quite as daring, and impressive as “A Long Day,” the 30-minute experiment in minimalism that closed the previous album.

Unforgivable is DeLaughter’s shameless mimicry of Flaming Lips figurehead Wayne Coyne’s vocal style. Coyne is brilliant in many ways, but a singer he is not. What makes his voice so charming and endearing is his completely unselfconscious ability to belt it like a church lady with a broken hearing aid. It works for Coyne, for DeLaughter it becomes all too obvious that he worships at the altar of the Lips, which for me only highlights the fact that the Spree will never live up to their strongest influence.

I’m conflicted by this album, because for every moment that irritates me, there comes a moment that melts me. For every inappropriate torrential burst of orchestra, as on “When a Fool Becomes a King,” there comes a moment like the slide guitar on “Suitcase Calling.” The album rollercoasters up and down from absolute beauty and brilliance to manipulative showmanship, sacrificing any real musical merit.

Put it all together and we have a credibly decent album much like the band’s debut, full of some earth shatteringly brilliant moments, betwixt a pile of novelty, kitsch, and mediocrity. The moments themselves are really quite worth your time. But before you blow your hard earned cash lets not forget about your dear friends at (illegal file sharing operation name deleted) who can provide a cheaper and far more impressive look at the Spree in less than six tracks. (7/10)


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