Review Summary: Andrew Bird: always getting better at being Andrew Bird
When for once an indie music nerd feels that he can write something that might have some bearing on his audience, he rejoices to spurn them, because the popular music is often just the thing he despises. Maybe this is because of the numerous sacrifices artists make in order to obtain the all-elusive fame and success that comes with popularity. The mainstream tends to smooth an artist's rugged edges; personality quirks are quieted, endearing individuality is muted. No wonder critics don't like it.
So, it's with proportional joy that our funny little critic runs to his readers having something about which they will agree with him. He is not a child who has found a new puppy and wants to keep it. No, he has instead found the beloved and long-lost family dog, and he knows everyone back at home will greatly appreciate what he has to report. It's always
nice to give a good report. And so, I give you Andrew Bird's January 20th, 2009 release. His 2007 release hit the spot with the indie community, mixing the shellac of Coldplay with the quirk of every weird influence Bird has ever absorbed over the course of his storied career. (Arguably, the career of a indie rock violinist - who specializes in whistling - has got to be storied. And since Bird invented that category, he's the rule that proves the exception.)
And so the story continues. He will woo you in the lilting concentration of the closing tracks and musical interludes, and the understated genius of each change of pace, like the epic salsa rhythm (if that's possible) and mixed major and minor key swells of "Masterswarm." The Elliot Smith chord progressions, orchestral plucking and timeless barnyard fiddle of "Effigy" and the oddly Radiohead-esqueness of "Not a Robot, but a Ghost," aren't even the central selling points; that charge might go to the rock 'n roll thud of "Fitz and the Dizzyspells."
The main downsides of Noble Beast
will not come from the album itself, but in listeners' attention span. This is not a disc for when you're in that "Back in Black" or "Stairway to Heaven" mood, and it's more "chill" than the music most metalheads would call "chill." It's better suited to the days when you have a headache that begs for something calm and collected but not boring. Consider also that Bird mostly continues the new tradition apparent, which he began in 2007 with Armchair Apocrypha. Perhaps that album signaled us about the change, a sort of new beginning, when it reiterated better-produced versions of songs already on previous albums. Gone are the rough and poorly balanced tracks of yesteryear. No one would ever guess he used to play in a raucous alt-swing band. Here is an extremely smooth draught of a renewed musical force, maybe in the tradition of Cat Stevens and Paul Simon. Hopefully he will keep writing songs for us for a long, promising time.