Review Summary: A good, but flawed entry into the Built to Spill canon.
I am currently enrolled in a film course at the University I attend in my home town. We have watched a number of great films, some of which I have come to love as some of my favourites; but also a few films that, while not without their own merit, lack a certain staying power. Recently we watched an Indian film called “The World of Apu”, which I found to bare a striking resemblance to another film we had watched in the class, the Italian neo-realist film “The Bicycle Thieves” (the director of “Apu” stated “Thieves” as an influence). While “The World of Apu” had a similar aesthetic to “The Bicycle Thieves” it ultimately came off as a weaker film. The main reason was to do with the story, while “Thieves” stood as one of the saddest films I had ever seen, I really couldn’t care less about the titular protagonist of “Apu”. The venerable indie act Built to Spill’s latest release, “You in Reverse”, suffers from a similar fate as “The World of Apu”. It’s pretty good, but something is lacking that keeps it from being great.
The first thing that’s immediately noticeable to any Built to Spill fan is the change in production style. While the bands previous release “Ancient Melodies of the Future” suffered from an all too perfected metallic sheen production value, “You in Reverse” goes for a more raw sound. This is certainly a welcomed change to the bands sound, as another album of cleanly produced guitar rock would have just felt redundant. This production approach adds a certain dexterity to the middle section guitar freak-out one of the album highlights ‘Mess With Time’. Ditto with the opening riff of ‘Conventional Wisdom’, which generally rocks my proverbial socks off. However, ‘Conventional Wisdom’ also brings up the main problem with the album, and that is song length. Especially towards the back end of the album, the songs seem to go on longer then they really should. They seem to all end with some sort of jam session, as if lead man Doug Martsch wanted to fill out some time. It is a little disappointing coming from a songwriter as gifted as Martsch.
This isn’t to say that Martsch has necessarily lost his Midas touch. The layered and complex guitar work is still evident, especially in what is probably the album’s best track, the nearly nine minute epic opener, “Goin Against Your Mind”. Starting with a two minute intro the song moves into a signature Martsch vocal melody before fading into a noise section. The amps get pumped up and the guitars come crashing back in with more Martsch vocals, and finally ending with a great guitar riff. The aforementioned “Mess With Time” also features some excellent guitar work especially during the solo, and the album closer “The Wait” is up there as another great ending to a Built to Spill album. Ultimately though, too many tracks seem to float around without the same level of impact as the stronger cuts. “Saturday” gets good towards the end, but it doesn’t make up for the less then stellar opening two minutes. Next track, “Wherever You Go” suffers from its six minute run time as the jam session tacked onto the latter half of the song never really goes anywhere. Again these songs are by no means bad, but like I said with the film “The World of Apu”, there is that certain x-factor missing. An x-factor that Built to Spill have had such regular supply of in the past.
So where does “You in Reverse” stand upon close inspection? Well it should be regarded for what it is, a great record. While it isn’t without its flaws, the album has enough great material to make me want to listen to it again and again. Unfortunately, in the same way I unfairly compared “The World of Apu” to “The Bicycle Thieves”, many Built to Spill fans will compare “You in Reverse” to the rest of the band’s catalogue. In this regard, the album just doesn’t hold a candle to indie classics such as “Perfect From Now On” or “Keep It Like A Secret”. Both of those albums have that certain vibe and quality that makes them special. While “You In Reverse” alludes to this same vibe and quality at times, it fails to hit it fully on the head.