Singer/songwriter Josh Ritter’s latest effort The Animal Years shamelessly incorporates a host of conventional pop influences, from Bruce Springsteen (“Monster Ballads”) to Billy Joel (“Wolves”), as well the usual folkies Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
Ritter supplements his clichéd Americana narratives with orchestral flourishes and pseudo-literary diction, like the ludicrous reference to Hamlet on the sprawling, self-important “Thin Blue Flame” (and nevermind the Coldplay-esque piano banging).
Saturated with Christian allusions a la pretty boy Sufjan Stevens, much of Ritter’s lyrics are preachy and heavy-handed (“Girl in the War”). The Animal Years is allegedly a “provocative” response to the war in Iraq, but any fiery political insights are lost in Ritter’s indulgent, self-important ramblings.
Whether Ritter is pacifying lazy listeners with a college-rock Guster accessibility (“In The Dark”) or with saccharine lyrics (“One More Mouth”), it is easy to see that an underwhelming mediocrity is at the heart of The Animal Years.