It’s been nearly four years since Low released Drums And Guns, a bruised and bloody reaction to the excesses of the Bush administration, and the most surprising album of their career. But in these wearier and more downbeat times, no-one could have expected a repeat performance; and indeed Low have performed another volte-face by releasing their most self-referential album to date.
It’s hard to listen to C’Mon without mentally dragging and dropping each song into one of the three periods of their career. Over the course of 10 tracks it hops and skips between the stripped-down drones and simple harmonies of their earliest work; the stately beauty of Secret Name and Trust; and the squalling bombast of their more recent albums.
But the spirit of reflection has given them the chance to retread some key moments in their career and perfect them in the process. Three exceptional pieces do just this, which collectively justify the price of entry. Witches approaches the bitterness of Drums And Guns, wedding a rough, clanging guitar riff to a snotty Dylanesque lyric from Alan Sparhawk. “When you’ve finally submitted to embarrassing capture / All you guys out there are going to wish you were Al Green,” he spits: heaven knows who the vitriol is directed at, but the surreal spite certainly hits home.
Especially Me takes us off in the opposite direction, Mimi Parker harmonising with her own backing vocals over a gently pulsing rhythm with the elegant fragility that characterise Low’s best work. Most impressive of all is Nothing But Heart, a stunning re-invention of the epic Lullaby from their debut album. It’s devastatingly simple – after a brief chunk of feedback and an unremarkable lyrical quatrain, Sparhawk repeats the title of the song 20 or 30 times. In the slow, slow world of Low, this takes in excess of eight minutes. And yet, with the exquisite interplay of Sparhawk’s tenor and Parker’s alto, and the expert building of guitar and drums from a whisper to a deafening roar, it goes down as one of post-rock’s finest moments.
Inevitably all the re-treading means there’s plenty of uninspired padding: $20 and Majesty/Magic in particular move us nowhere that we haven’t already been. So is there anything new here, any forays into uncharted waters? Well, yes and no. There’s the odd banjo lick and lonesome-cowboy lap-steel accompaniment, and the two tracks bookending the album are probably poppier than anything they’ve written before, The trouble is, Low don’t do pop very well, and here they come off sounding like a watered-down Arcade Fire.
C’Mon is a pause for breath, a likeable but slight addition to an impressive back catalogue. As an exercise in revisiting past glories it performs well, but one can’t help but wish that they’d returned from their long break with a bit more of a bang.