Review Summary: Noble Beast is a test, a test to prove that, sometimes, sounding good is better than simply getting it right.
For some, listening to Andrew Bird's Noble Beast
might be the equivalent of taking a peek at a musician's diary, complete with unfinished thoughts and sometimes incoherent scrawling. Noble Beast
is riddled with high-brow diction, personal narrative and reserved introspection, layered over with rustic violins, mandolins and--of course--whistlin' harmonies. Bird takes his personal narrative to such a deep level of introspection that some might find it monotonous or exhausting, while others might simply find it enjoyable, a welcome bit of recuperation from overly haughty works of "fine art."
is as much an experience as it is an album. Sort of similar to the likes of Explosion in the Sky's The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
or Radiohead's Kid A
; this album invites the listener to enjoy the composition in its own right. Bird has taken language and morphed it into something fairly unrecognizable. Sometimes Bird's first-person narration takes a sensory, haunting tone, such as the line "So they took me to the hospital / They put my body through a scan" on "Masterswarm," and other times it sounds a little more absurd ("Squint your eyes and no one dies or goes to jail" on "Oh No").
What might deter some listeners from this album is the nonsensical tone that it sometimes takes. No matter how hard you work it out, some of the lyrics might not have any deeper meaning to them then the cool sounds they make when sung together. Bird has always taken pleasure in playing around with high-brow diction, and it's especially true on Noble Beast
. Bird suggests that the way the song is put together and the way the words sound together is more important than what they're supposed to mean. His constantly shifting tone and his sometimes unfinished lines carry such importance simply in the way he presents them. Halfway through the album on "Nomenclature," Bird tells the listener just that, as if it was a thesis statement. He sings, "Sometimes we've got to play to play . . . Now the colors have bled to gray / To ones that don't exist in nature," and it's as if he's telling us outright that sometimes the point of life is to just play around and enjoy the sounds--not analyze and beat the hell out of them.
The music on Noble Beast
is mostly the same as always. Sadly, he hasn't quite fully returned to the jazzier side of The Swimming Hour
, but still, his music is an eclectic mix of rock, folk, jazz and ballads. He even adds a little bit of electronic beats on "Not a Robot, But a Ghost," still layered over with violins and guitars, just for good measure. Generally, the music moves slowly just like the lyrics. It's paced well, and not thrown in your face all at once. Time changes and tonal shifts come through late on some of the songs, which make for surprising and emotionally fulfilling moments.
"Anonanimal" is a great representation of the "sound-over-meaning" aspect of this album. When Bird sings, "See a sea anemone, the enemy see a sea anemone / And that'll be the end of me, that'll be the end of me / While the vicious fish was caught unawares in the tenderest of tendrils," there could be some deep meaning you could conjure up from within it, but the point is that it sounds good. It's poetic in its composition and execution. Bird doesn't want you to dissect his album. He wants you to listen to it. And hopefully by the end--surely, if you're a patient and careful listener--you will have enjoyed it, too.