Review Summary: Portugal. The Man Portugal The Mans the hell out of the latest Portugal. The Man release.
On Portugal. The Man’s last release, In the Mountain In the Cloud, singer John Baldwin Gourley sang in that album’s closing moments, “I just want to sleep forever/Never see tomorrow/Lead or Follow.” It’s hard to blame him. The psychedelic-tinged indie-rockers managed to crank out release after release at a blistering pace since the band’s inception, miraculously never faltering from the band’s standard of quality. Unfortunately, being among one of the most consistent band’s out there comes with a certain amount of baggage. For one, expectation comes with consistency -and expectations kind of suck. While Portugal. The Man have almost always met these expectations, they’ve also become one of the least surprising bands in the process. A lack of surprise is fine when the quality of releases are as high as with Portugal’s, but it also makes an album like In the Mountain In the Cloud –good as it may be- inessential. Evil Friends
, the band’s 2013 offering, probably aims to shake that reputation. Coming off the first two-year break between releases, it has a surprising amount to answer for: will this finally be the album that break’s Portugal. The Man’s glass ceiling? Or will it get lost in the shuffle of their increasingly deep discography?
The answer is frustratingly predictable in the best way.
“Plastic Soldiers” picks up right where the last album left off, sounding like one awakening after sleeping forever. It doesn’t take long before the eyes come back into focus as horns give way to soft buzzings and pianos dancing over calm beats. It’s perhaps a more reserved opener than usual for the band, but it secretly manages to sneak in the album’s mission statement as John wonders aloud, “Could it be we got lost in the summer?” Starting with the next track, “Creep in A T-Shirt”, it becomes overwhelmingly apparent that this is a summer album through and through. The bombastic horns and “get it, get it’s” found throughout are sure to make their way onto airwaves in a big way. “Hip Hop Kids” is the triumphant drive to the beach with friends; “Sea of Air” is the pink sunset at the end of the day. Hell, even “Waves” is the perfect anthem for the seasonal political activists at summer festivals. In the past, Portugal. oozed cool from its earnestness; here, they communicate fun.
Part of that vitality is no doubt due to famed producer Danger Mouse lending a helping hand. The album is distinctly Portugal, but moments like the title track –which finds the band kind of doing a good impression of the last few Black Keys albums- and “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” that probably wouldn’t have been done without his guidance. The hip-hop spice sprinkled throughout their brand of psychedelic-ish indie rock is surprisingly effective, trimming down on fat and gorging on hooks: Evil Friends
is essentially a collection of singles that just happen to work well together and make more than the sum of its parts. It’s easily the album with the strongest sense of identity in the band’s catalog.
Truthfully, it’s hard to find fault with an album that’s as fun and carefree as Evil Friends
. Sure, “Smile” is a pretty weak closing track compared to others that they’ve made, but it’s not offensively bad besides its very abrupt end. “Holy Roller [Hallelujah]” is both pretty forgettable and shows that the band still clings on to unnecessary brackets in song titles. Some of the lyrics are a bit puzzling, with “Hip Hop Kids” calling out…absolutely no one in particular it seems with probably the worst line the band has written: “All you hip hop kids think we give a ***/Well we don't”. The rest of the album relies a bit too much on the side of self-pity, which is largely at odds with the vibe of the music itself.
So does Evil Friends
shatter Portugal. The Man’s glass ceiling? I’m not really sure. If it doesn't, it certainly shows the band banging the hell out out of it. The summery vibe may limit the album's lifespan in the future, but, that should do little to put off prospective listeners. Simply put, Evil Friends
is one of the most fun albums of 2013 and continues to show that the name Portugal. The Man is synonymous with quality.