Album Reviews

The Polyphonic Spree – Together We’re Heavy

(sacha esterson) UK release date: 12 July 2004

Well, what can I say? On the one hand, I want tohate this album because it’s so pretentious that it doesn’teven feel the need to understand the meaning of theword (their press kit, for example, claims that one ofthe tracks “…is like a condensed A Day In The Lifehad The Beatles managed to fit in a profound romanticdeclaration for a jittery age”).

On the other hand, there are moments when itbecomes as good as it thinks it is, and those momentsare magnificent.

In case you’ve been Sleeping Beauty these past fewyears, you’ll know that The Polyphonic Spree are aclan of around 20 robe wearing songsters, featuringorchestra and choir (apparently they’re wearing robesso that all of the members’ different clothing styleswouldn’t be a distraction, although actually wearingthem seems to me to be a little distractive).

Though they do have a unique sound, track one(named Section 11, to continue from The BeginningStages Of, their first album) brings out the pianowriting to the full, and it sounds like Coldplay.It’s a pleasant enoughtrack because of this, despite some moments of jarring in whichthe mixing which don’t really add to the result.

Anyhow, the comparison with The Beatles is a goodone, because track two (Section 12, Hold Me Now)doesn’t just sound like Oasis, it IS Oasis. TheGallaghers will be listening to this and arguing overwhich of the brothers released a single behind theother one’s back. Having said that, it is a wonderfulfour minutes, and a central military section leadsinto an almighty chillingly emotional climax whichwould have the brothers overcome with forgiveness withtears in their eyes.

Next track (Section 13, Diamonds/Mild Devotion ToMajesty) contains a one of The Spree’s favouritetricks; that is to say a song with twowell-written choruses and nothing else. There’s an ostentatious-sounding bit half way through (with a fewintentional mildly-off notes), but apart from thatit’s unremarkable.

All the better for Section 14, Two ThousandPlaces, which is actually a wonderful song. It’smemorable, well written, has nice chords, greatsinging, and a choir crooning in a wayever-so-slightly like Elton John.

One of the big problems I have with the album isthat it tries to have such a different and uniquesoundworld that when you’ve heard one song, it’sfairly difficult to distinguish between the rest.Going from Section 13 to 14, for instance, it’s thesame chord, with the same orchestration (flute, horn,theremin), and the same beat. I actually had to checkmy CD player that it was a different song. This is oneof the let-downs of the album. In addition, all thesongs contain electronic sounds resembling UFO’s(obviously relating to the ‘otherworldly’robes/artwork/lyrics), but a) they become d�j� vuafter the first track, and b) they were sufficientlyannoying to scare my cat out of the room.

Section 15 is a short and beautiful intstrumental,but it’s followed by a pretentious introduction toSection 16, One Man Show, which features operaticvoices and pizzicato strings. Now correct me if I’mwrong, but I believe using such instruments can behighly effective, but only if the quality of the musiccan justify its presence (look at Joby Talbot’sarrangements in The Divine Comedy, for instance). Theproblem is, the quality of writing in One Man Showjust doesn’t cut it, and the use of these elementssimply appears indulgent.

This may be pompous, indulgent and everythingelse you can call it, but it’s still at times extraordinaryand original. Section 17, Suitcase Calling has lyrics(“It’s the feelgood time of day”) that just made mewant to smile, and the whole album does have an air ofinfectiousness about it (but only in a good way, mind!).

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