There’s something about this album that doesn’t strike my ears the same way previous Clem Snide albums did. Not in a bad way, and not that I expect, or desire, them all to sound the same. Stylistic tendencies aside, none of them do sound the same and I’m glad for that. Still and all- there *is* a difference here.
There seems to be less of the brutal, brittle indie-feel of the group’s first three albums that made them the cool band to listen to before the tween army commandeered “emo.” Which is not to say it’s veered into the love-is-good-and-possible realms of Soft Spot or the easy-breezy-beautiful End of Love by any means. It’s more of a chilled out, y’alt-folked, jazz lounged, ever so slightly bluegrassed, heart freeze of whatever art students turn into after their first divorce. And I like that.
Lead singer and songwriter Eef Barzelay has been quoted as seeing Hungry Bird as a “loosely-conceived, post-apocalyptic fairytale.” Yeah- or a jazz lounged heart freeze. Tomayto tomahto.
Perhaps the band was just in that much different a place by the time they recorded Hungry Bird in 2006 than they’d been when You Were A Diamond first hit shelves in ’98. After all, a lot happened in the interim, including multiple changes to the group’s roster, and the marriage of Barzelay.* For those of us who view such major changes as impending contracts for bands to appear on “Where Are They Now?” we could’ve anticipated the group’s dissolution as early as the birth of Barzelay’s son and the subsequent ’03 release of the noticeably affected Soft Spot. You know- if we were cynical like that. But we weren’t (always) so we held on through the release of End of Love and hoped for the best. “The best” being a break up of the band three years later after Hungry Bird was recorded but before it could be released.
Sometimes life’s just like that. On to the review.
Some Hungry Bird songs had to really work to grab me after slower intros that seemed not directionless so much as… omnipresent? They had sounds that were everywhere, but not quite anywhere in particular. I had to wait for the lyrics and the musical “pick-ups” to tell me where we were going. This isn’t something I mind. In fact I rather enjoy it. But like I said- it takes a little longer to grab my attention when I have to wait so long to be told where we’re headed. Case in point? The Hawaiian lounge act sound of “Born A Man.” Sample: “And those who are the most afraid say courage is a sin,/ And we are just bracing for the impact by loosening our limbs.” I was ready to write it off until I stopped poo-pooing the sunset piano and started listening to the story.
That guy. Honestly. Writes poetry teachers’ dream lesson plans.
Hungry Bird also lacks some of the more immediate accessibility of past albums’ easier hits like “Moment In The Sun” and “Your Night To Shine.” This is not to say Hungry Bird won’t be a hit among fans and draw in a new generation of listeners. Songs like “Me No” and “Pray” don’t go gently into that good night. They get re-listened to, drag-and-dropped into playlists, and discussed at great length over Parliaments. I’m just saying: You’ve got to work a little more for this album both musically and lyrically. There’s something intrinsically fulfilling about that kind of participation, however, so I imagine many of you will get as much a kick out of doing so as I have.
There’s a Bob Dylan-y feel to it at times as well. Earlier Dylan, before time made him Older Dylan. And I can’t quite decide if I think this for any reason other than that it sometimes sounds like Dylan’s mouth is forming word sounds via Barzelay’s voicebox. But do you hear it too? Have a listen to “With All My Heart” and get back to me. Sample: “‘Give back what you took from me,’/ You whispered in your sleep./ And who but me would write it down?/ So now it’s mine to keep./ And if you call me, I’ll be there./ And man I’ll get there fast/ With tender words I’ve memorized/ About how nothing lasts.”
Incidentally, I think that may be the most consistent exact rhyme of any Clem Snide song…
For those of you Clem Snide fans reading this, as opposed to the misdirected Google searchers who are skimming this page out of mild curiosity, I really think you’re going to dig “The Endless Endings” and the 8 minute quasi-epic “Pray.” And the undeniable familiarity “Our Time Will Come” feels for “Don’t Be Afraid of Your Anger” and “Beard of Bees” feels for “Loneliness Finds Her Own Way” will be like coming home to what you’ve always loved about these blokes.
Ah these blokes…
In the end it really does feel like the same people made this album as the people who made the previous releases, but only after spending all night reading three too many good reviews, and three too many bad on the work they’d done together thus far. This seems to have resulted in kind of a “Fuck it let’s just make music” feel to the disc that’s instantly refreshing, if a bit lacking in overall track-to-track cohesion.
The boys are as adept as ever at inciting simultaneous hope and depression while maintaining the high music and lyric quality to which we’ve grown accustomed. All told I’d probably peg it dead even with End of Love.
Hungry Bird. Don’t quibble; purchase. And purchase soon. Now that they’re back together the gang is hitting the road to tour the US this Spring and Europe this summer. You don’t want to be the only hanger on at the after-bar with a Sharpie and nothing to get signed…
(My thanks to Bruce Rosendahl over at Savoy for sending me a copy of the album to review. You rock, dude.)
*The Marriage of Barzelay = A fantastic name for an eyeliner pop band from Haifa or a dystopian graphic novel