Canadian supergroup the New Pornographers have had an exponentially growing fan base since their hook-heavy debut Mass Romantic was released in 2000. Word of mouth regarding supermember Carl Newman’s remarkably unpretentious approach to writing catchy, explosive pop even led to the dubious distinction of making it onto the Music from the O.C. mixtape. With the recognition that his indie rock songs were so simple and mass-appealing even sorority girls could understand and appreciate them, what direction did Newman decide to take for Twin Cinema, the New Pornographers’ eagerly awaited third album? Why, create another batch of perfect power pops songs that become hard-wired into your head the first time you hear each song’s chorus, of course. While there’s no denying the New Pornographers’ ability to create fun, sunny bubblegum rock, one can’t help but feel cheated that such talented and visionary musicians are sticking to such limited stylistic ground. Basically all of the songs on Twin Cinema would be MTV hits if viewers could be as enthralled by Newman’s fiery jew-fro as they are Mariah Carey’s implants, but like Beck’s flawed Guero, we’ve just heard this all before.
The album begins both promisingly and inauspiciously with the title track, another perfect pop song to add to the band’s catalog. “Twin Cinema” contains an instantly indelible hook in the chorus allowing Newman to hit the highest notes he’s probably capable of. The song is craftily arranged, with Newman shouting out lines that play wonders off an ecstatic guitar riff. But it seems as though this riff, so central to the song’s core, has been played by the band thousands of times before. It’s not that the riff itself is necessarily a recycling so much as the energy the riff gives off is. Fortunately, Kurt Dahle helps keep things relatively fresh with his frenetic, almost maniacal drumming. On past recordings, Dahle served mainly to discreetly support the band’s upbeat energy; on “Twin Cinema” and many other tracks, he’s Keith Mooning his way to the forefront, providing some much-needed toughness.
“The Bleeding Heart Show” begins and continues with ominous, echoing vocals by Newman that build tension until relief, at least musically, finally comes midway through the song with the group chanting over a haunting organ and Dahle’s pounding drums. The song then evolves into a sing-a-long chorus, with the drums still stealing the show. It’s at this point, even with all the elements working together so well, that perhaps the main weakness of the New Pornographers becomes clear. What actually separates this song from most of the album is its attempt at something deeper, but both Neko Case and Carl Newman’s vocals just don’t have the soul necessary to give this song the impact it deserves. Case and Newman are fully capable of pulling off kitschy, bubble gummy vocals, but not much more. Nor do they really ever attempt much more. But the tragic part is that Newman certainly has the talent to write songs with greater profundity than he currently is. Perhaps its time to add another Canadian to this supergroup. Is Gordon Lightfoot still around?
Archived article by Jared Wolfe
Sun Staff Writer