New Pornographers, The – Together

The New Pornographers have always been seen as “the little engine that could” in the super group world, if that tag can even apply. With the release of records like Newman’s The Slow Wonder and Destroyer’s Rubies and Neko Case’s slow ascent to fame in the alt-country world accompanying nearly simultaneously the New Pornographers’ growing reputation, it might be more auspicious to imply that the group became a super group more than ever having originated as one. The fact that at the time it was a product of like-minded musicians and not necessarily rock n’ roll heroes might serve to explain how their debut record Mass Romantic was able to turn out not only surprisingly good, but as one of the strongest pop records to come out this decade.

Regardless of their origins, the New Pornos soon proved themselves as a force to be reckoned with, with subsequent releases Electric Version and the Pandora’s Box of satisfyingly emotional pop Twin Cinema parading not only the chemistry of the group’s constituents, but the longevity of said chemistry. However, in the current context, their fantastic history serves as all the more reason to justify the quibbling of their fans and critics at their more recent Challengers.

Challengers was lamentably bereft of the jovial power-pop that set them apart as a super group since their monumental debut Mass Romantic. It was a largely wistful affair, feeling as if the members had suddenly become aware of their history and chose to cower in recognition of the immensity of the future before them. The flat ballads off that record, such as “Unguided” and “Adventures in Solitude” felt just as fearful of progression, refusing to evolve, yet refusing to leave, making for a rather frustrating record of endless promise and endless refusal, especially considering the highly rewarding development of the band’s past solemn endeavors, such as in “The Bleeding Heart Show” and “These Are the Fables.” If Challengers could be seen as an expression of anxiety in the face of middle-age, then Together can be seen as atonement with that anxiety, and all together it’s more rewarding.

That’s not to say Together is a full-circle return-to-form. The super group’s newest LP has more in common with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours than it does with their own Mass Romantic. While that may be more compliment than insult, it makes a somewhat disappointing implication about the record. The New Pornographers on this record share less in common with the New Pornographers of the past than they ever have before; Together lacks the eclectic moments like “Sing Me Spanish Techno” and “Electric Version” that made the group more unique than just the sum of its parts. While the group’s pedigree has been obvious from the get-go, each release sharing Bejar and Newman’s penchant for cryptic lyrics and intricate arrangements and daringly showcasing Case’s bombastic vocal skills, Together is more restrained and free-flowing than before, primarily because it refuses to play on the strengths of its members, or at least any besides Newman.

In addition, if the comparison to Rumours is to be continued, Together is nothing short of stagnant in terms of development. It was Rumours’ passionate peaks (“Go Your Own Way,” “You Make Loving Fun”) and solemn valleys (“The Chain,” “Oh Daddy”) that gave the record its lasting impression. Twin Cinema also followed this trend, with epic ballads like “The Bleeding Heart Show” complementing the frivolous joys on “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras” or “Use It.” There is no such progression on Together, which fluctuates between excited contentment and, well, relaxed contentment. Cheerily energetic “Your Hands (Together)” and nostalgic Case showcase (pun intended) “My Shepherd” are among this record’s highs, foiled by the sauntering, yet still upbeat and perky “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” and the touching Newman/Calder duet “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco.” Alone they’re satisfying, together even more so, but nothing more than forgettable.

Together has the fortunate advantage of having to follow its predecessor Challengers and in this respect it’s a warm brush of relief to know that the New Pornographers are on the right path to re-embrace their brighter days. True to its name, Together is the sound of a group of musicians that have grown to feel more like family than collaborators, but the record feels more like a happy ending than a story in itself. If there is a God, this won’t be the last we’ll hear from the New Pornographers. While Together isn’t quite enough to occupy one until their next release, all signs are saying that it may be well worth the wait.

Score: C

by Mason “currently singing Spanish techno” McGough

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1 Comment

  1. New Review! The New Pornographers – Together « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] The New Pornographers – Together, by Mason McGough […]

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