Review Summary: Cursive again.
'Mama, I'm Swollen' is an anomaly, presenting Cursive simultaneously succeeding at their new sound while falling into pitfalls of being redundant. Most of the criticism is easily lodged at lyricist Tim Kasher. The head lyricist attempts for grandiose themes to go along with the grandiose instrumentals of 'Mama, I'm Swollen'. The problem with this approach is as witty and sarcastic as Kasher attempts to make himself his true attraction lyrically has always been his bare honesty. Oddly 'Mama's' strongest tracks in lyrical terms are ones that regurgitate the romantic narcissism that made the group rivals to their Saddle Creek peers. 'What Have I Done?' and 'I Couldn't Love You' are lyrical concepts that have been present throughout both Cursive and The Good Life's discographies. The truth is somewhere along the line Cursive musically matured and that maturity is what remains attractive about this record.
Praising Cursive for their innovation on this record is definitely easy. The mix of Cursive's post-hardcore heritage and influences from new wave groups like The Cure makes many of the tracks here succeed. 'Donkeys' is as ominous as it is catchy. The aforementioned 'I Couldn't Love You' seems like an easy follow up for 'From The Hips' for the group's next single. On that note the more accessible tracks on this album may spurn curiosity of Cursive's bid for mainstream attention. Not to say it is intentional at all, throughout the record Kasher remains even darker and unforgiving than fellow label mate Conor Oberst. Though through the new set of industry rules that groups like The Shins and even Bright Eyes have achieved for indie groups one wonders when Cursive will wedge itself in the public conscious. Perhaps the arrangements on this record are to out there for the average indie rock fan and the attention towards being orchestrated while accessible is what truly makes tracks like 'Mama, I'm Satan' and 'We're Going To Hell' succeed.
Where does 'Mama, I'm Swollen' not succeed? First off, the identity crisis that Cursive seems to be going through makes it seem like The Good Life should have no reason to exist. While 'The Ugly Organ' was bombastic to the point of annoyance Cursive's new record stutters due to its inability to settle on any likeness at all. 'Let Me Up' and 'Caveman' may not be bad tracks, but their quirkiness and stoic arrangements make them feel like complete mistakes in terms of the track listing. When Cursive first revealed many of these tracks signs pointed toward the group moving back into a more stripped down electric group. What has resulted is something much different instead 'Mama, I'm Swollen' seems to be Cursive's most studio produced record yet. Sadly, that isn't a positive as Cursive's main strength has always been the power behind Kasher's voice and this record seems to be doing everything it can to not rely on that.
'What Have I Done?' is different. 'What Have I Done?' gives Cursive fans what they want when they hear Cursive. Not to say that artists must satisfy their fans, but if Kasher wanted to fully make up for those that hated 'Happy Hollow' one would think 'What Have I Done?' would be the answer. Breaking the track down it simply relies on the overused soft to loud dynamic that Cursive has been implementing since their beginning. Kasher mumbles a tale of futile realization over the track and when the guitars finally crash at the end you feel like for once on this record you can fully relate to its composer. He's much older than he was on the embarrassingly public 'Domestica' and much more concise than on the sprawling 'Ugly Organ', but as he is attempting to say throughout 'Mama, I'm Swollen' he is still the same. Kasher still embraces his flaws and while that may not work to the record's advantage when it does Cursive hits hard as ever.