Where You Been?
The New Pornographers show up for real this time; Wes Montgomery reissues after 40 years; and Esthero makes a long overdue return
The New Pornographers
Now shift your attention to The New Pornographers’ Twin Cinema , end product of two years spent tinkering with the machine’s ultra-sensitive motherboard of buttons and levers. The cheerfully devastating Electric Version of 2003 was a showcase of interlocking emotional gears, but the Vancouver super-group’s new album turns the volume down on formulaic kitsch. It feels more personal, like a scribbled plotting of algorithms instead of a calculator, or a spiral notebook instead of a zip disk. Lest you fear that The New Pornographers have thrown their dancing shoes in the recycling bin, however, rest assured any office supply metaphors used here are strictly of the hip-shaking, rock ’n’ roll variety.
Of course, the downside of any tryst with authenticity is that it takes a little longer to puncture the surface. Wind-blown leaps of logic tumble across the album’s tracks and, if taken too seriously, the chase can be exhausting. Likewise, experimentations in genre are whimsically voyeuristic, like watching surf-rock get knocked around by arty, cigarette pop in a dark alley in some dream. There’s so much going on, in fact, it may take two or three listens before Twin Cinema finally gets around to setting up shop inside your head. In the instantly gratuitous pop world, that’s an eternity. But in this case it’s worth the (relatively miniscule) wait.
The additional tracks are perhaps superfluous. Montgomery’s legend is established with the first tune, a 13-minute take of Miles Davis’ “No Blues.” Nevertheless, this reissue offers the excuse to marvel at the chemistry Montgomery shared with this particular rhythm section (Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums). Moreover, the CD presents the opportunity to revisit Montgomery’s m.o., as on “No Blues” he interleaves a bluesy attack with single-note runs, note repetition, and octave chording to deliver a solo filled with exhilarating tension and release. The same means are employed on the last cut, Coltrane’s “Impressions,” but at a considerably faster tempo, with Montgomery steaming from one note to the next, yet nevertheless touching each of the intermediate pitches. These two tunes alone are worth the price of the CD.
The only drawback of this more complete Smokin’ is the inclusion of Alan Grant’s introductions between tunes during the live date. His officious smarminess, distracts from the fine performances, and inspires only frustrated hopes that someone will shove him off the bandstand.
Seven years ago BreathFrom Another was enthusiastically dubbed A-plus trip-hop. Since then the Canadian-born Esthero’s battled producers and her own ballooning ego, delaying Wikked , slated for release four years ago, in favor of farming out songs to movie soundtracks and other people’s records.
Such dilly-dallying has resulted is an album with little thematic and stylistic continuity; some numbers are backed by house beats, others by full-on orchestras. She’s picked up on the several-years-ago success of Norah Jones and the now-power of Gwen Stefani; she’s raped Bjork’s fearlessness, Nelly Furtado’s wordplay and Madonna’s unflinching sexuality, for her own perverse satisfaction. The chanteuse seduces with sultry ballads, raps unconvincingly about the piss-poor state of hip-hop and unveils unapologetic, mouth-dropping sexual innuendoesz. For the hell of it, she’s thrown in self-indulgent telephone messages and spoken word pieces too.
She’s rock, hip-hop, jazz, ethnic and folk music rolled into one fire-haired package—a full-blown identity crisis. About the only thing interesting are her lips, always pressed tight against the mike, boasting her brilliant, versatile, timeless voice.