Music wouldn’t be music without its style-hopping, project-swapping troubadours. The vagrant souls whose output sprawls across scenes and aliases; the many-fingered pie-pokers who’d sooner turn their toes up than set them to rest.
The trouble with such fleet-footed fanciers is a suspicion that they’re jacks of all trades and therefore masters of none. Cue Alexander Ebert’s first solo effort in the wake of charming if not groundbreaking work in both Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeroes and Ima Robot. Has he just too many ideas for two bands to accommodate, or is it simply a case of cold feet?
On the evidence of this self-titled unaccompanied debut, Ebert does have an abundance of creativity at hand. What is lacking, perhaps, is the deft-handedness – or perhaps the sheer bloody-mindedness – to mould such raw ingenuity into an album’s worth of material: Alexander is a thoroughly enjoyable LP, but one that comes across as ever-so-slightly lightweight.
Lightness, though, is something of a marketer’s dream as the spring establishes itself and sets the stage for summer, and this is an April release down to its flowery socks: opener Let’s Win! pitches immediately – and successfully – at territory between Bedouin Soundclash and, more pointedly, Paolo Nutini, the current absence of both hinting at Ebert’s motivation.
Awake My Body then cranks up a folk-pop stomp like a more stylish and cultured Wurzels – Alexander’s rough croon sliding ever closer to the aforementioned Nutini’s – while In The Twilight’s clapping, clopping, veranda stomping excels with its harmonic oohs, laid back constitution and clever turns of phrase.
There’s also room for the odd moment of inspiration. Lead single Truth burns slower than its trackmates – evoking lonely plains rather than bawdy barn dances – and sees Ebert’s hip-hop credentials emerge, his more dynamic flow contrasting nicely with the stop-start strum backing. It’s the album’s best passage, ran close by Bad Bad Love’s glorious Bob Dylan-meets-Fleet Foxes charter.
From such peaks, though, the album inevitably troughs: Old Friend’s tenderness manifests as lackadaisical, lacking verve as if Ebert has ran through his rolodex of ideas a tad too quickly; A Million Years jumps through the same hoops as its predecessors, drawing only semi-contented smiles the second time around; Remember Our Heart’s old time principles entertain heartily enough, but lack, perhaps, the driven commitment of She & Him and other surf-pop revivalists.
Glimpses, meanwhile, is Alexander’s answer to A Change Is Gonna Come. Raw, stripped back acoustica that slowly ventures into echoing strings and back again, it’s the sound of the flighty songster eventually grounded; its Venetian-like heartache propelling it above most of its less substantial trackmates.
Album closing number Let’s Make A Deal Not To Make A Deal encapsulates Alexander, album and man: perfectly pleasant but far from spectacular, it seeks permission to entertain rather than boldly intervening, and thus leaves one with the impression that it will be forever enjoyable but never truly great. But who knows? Perhaps that’s exactly what Alexander Ebert intends. His odyssey continues.