Review Summary: What if I can't see the point Matthew?
The production concept behind Canadian rock musician Matthew Good's latest offering, the rather enigmatically-titled Lights of Endangered Species
, was first birthed over 14 years ago. A conversation with longtime producer Warne Livesey while the pair were recording (the now defunct) Matthew Good Band's 1997 breakout album Underdogs
, slowly convinced Good that the ultimate step would be to eventually put out an album featuring extensive orchestral arrangements and other instruments generally atypical of a rock record. Given the rough road that Good has had to face in the past decade - a period of time marked by the break-up of his own band, a divorce, battles with severe anxiety due to an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and an addiction to Ativan that almost killed him and had him check into a psychiatric ward - it is a wonder that even the very desire of making a “definitive statement” album managed to stay intact. However, as Good himself explained during an interview just after the album's release, "That conversation has always stuck with both of us for the last 13 - 14 years", and that after his last show in Vancouver at the Centre for Performing Arts in 2009, he approached Livesey and said, "It's time we make that record that we talked about". He then adds that both he and Livesey always made sure that they wanted to do "absolutely anything and damn the consequences".
Which makes it such a shame that Lights of Endangered Species
has somehow turned out to be a complete and utter failure.
A quick spin of Good’s latest offering reveals an album that, for some, will echo nought but the weaker cuts on his previous solo works. To put it bluntly, this is an album that will continuously make listeners - especially if they are veterans of Matthew Good's discography - recall older, better songs, and make them long to want to go and listen to them instead. First single "In A Place of Lesser Men" is an unfortunate herald for the rest of the album - to call it as dull as watching paint dry would be to insult a rather useful decorative pigment. The song tosses together dripping piano notes with mournful three-note guitar rings, with the final product sounding more lethargic than a tranquilized overweight moose. "She goes about her day and keeps her cool until the weekend/In a place of lesser men
", explains Good on the song, before randomly advising listeners, "Best spend the night under your bed
". The song's abrupt and half-hearted ending gives it the impression of being a sketch from U2's days of working on The Unforgettable Fire
, but with none of the band's rich and sublime atmospherics.
Meanwhile, Good's penchant for picking dreary opening numbers remains, but where he has previously found some success with using these slow burners to slip an entire album into gear, on Lights of Endangered Species
the awkward and stilted drumming on "Extraordinary Fades" ends up killing the party altogether. Never has an opening track torpedoed the aspirations of the rest of its album so quickly and with such ruthless precision. The Brian Eno-esque loops on "Shallow’s Low" go some way to demonstrate that album could have gained some form of traction despite its initial shortcomings, but unfortunately Good chooses the next instant to hurl yet another shameless Good-ism at the hapless listener; on “What If I Can’t See The Stars, Mildred?”, he laments, "If I'm the crazy one then what the fuck's with everyone else?
", forcing himself miles away from reality and, ultimately, from the rest of us. Worse, the line seems like a cop-out from a man who simply can't be arsed about coming up with some new line of rhetorical engagement to use. Although the songs on the album are (for the most part) beautifully orchestrated and lovingly layered with horns, strings, woodwinds, piano and acoustic guitars, their meticulous construction make for unequivocally boring pieces, and herein lies the problem: the ebb and swell of the hired orchestra are often all these vague, hook-deficient songs have going for them.
Elsewhere, there's a strong theme of ambiguous self-pity running through the record, with Good seemingly trying his hardest to avoid making sense whenever possible. Some may chose to call it abstract writing, but it is hard to buy such an interpretation given that even the rules of basic grammar and the desire to avoid run-on sentences seem to have deserted our once-coherent poet. Whether he's attempting to foist poetry upon the tuneless hum of "Set Me On Fire", or going for the dramatic and awe-inspiring via the semi-hallucinatory ramblings on "Lights of Endangered Species", Good’s latest written work is mediocre and uninspiring at best. Chief among the lyrical lampooneries present here is the opening prose to “How It Goes,” which features the drunk line of, "Of all the fake they say it takes to make it well I don't know man
". For an artist who once wrote an entire album based on his divorce and subsequent admission to a psychiatric ward, this is quite the fall from grace. Yet, despite all this, it is worth noting that the album does carry one true gem; mid-album track "Zero Orchestra" is an absolute highlight, with its massive horn arrangements comfortably carrying the song's bombastic outlook home in style. Paradoxically, it may even be the best tune that Good has ever written, and in its triumphant march out the doorway it unwittingly becomes a wistful glance down the path of what could have been, had Good not thoroughly lost himself and Livesey in the hubris of creating an atypical but ultimately ineffective rock record.
Whereas it was once common to receive a Matthew Good album that easily ran over the hour mark, Lights of Endangered Species
- at merely forty-some minutes long - is Good's shortest album yet, whether it be a solo effort or as part of a band. Considering that he had wanted to make this album for virtually all of his musical career, one could be forgiven for thinking that the final product would be mind-numbingly expansive in both span and scope. Yet, in this relatively truncated affair, there is a certain ring of justice to events - mainly as all forty minutes of material have strongly suggested that, in all probability, our once eloquent Vancouverite has simply run out of things to say.