Review Summary: I dreamt I stood on a hill that I wished was a mountain, and looked back on all my accomplishments.
Acoustic albums are inherently tricky. At best, they are a treat for hardcore fans. At worst, they're a thinly veiled cash grab (and in most cases, they are both). How can an artist write something that's different enough from the original to make it worth a second listen without betraying the original's identity" And, perhaps most difficult of all, how can the artist justify writing a full LP worth of acoustic material without boring everyone within earshot by track six"
I'm happy to say The Classic Crime, for the most part, overcame the obstacles in its way in writing What Was Done
. The band's growth from its debut to 2012's Phoenix
has been quite drastic, giving Matt MacDonald a good deal to work with. This isn't a straightforward "swap out the guitars and send the drummer home" acoustic job, mercifully. While few songs are drastically overhauled, there's a good deal of tinkering behind the scenes that make old highlights sing and turn forgotten tracks (like "My Name") into winners -- though the insistence on labeling some songs as "Revisited" instead of "Acoustic" seems awfully pretentious.
Oddly, the biggest weakness of What Was Done
is the track selection. The debut Albatross
is somewhat over-represented (though, again, it's been eight years, it's forgivable), and The Silver Cord
, the band's best album by a long shot and yet the one they seem most eager to forget, only appears twice. And those appearances are among the album's low points -- "Salt in the Snow" and "God and Drugs," both highlights on a fantastic album, just don't offer anything new when "Revisited."
But given what's on the plate here, it's all executed quite well. MacDonald's vocals are near-flawless, showcasing his husky lower register and gorgeous falsetto on "Who Needs Air," an already solid song made fantastic by stripping down the sound. In a nice change of pace, TCC does not see fit to slow everything to a crawl for the acoustic album. "Vagabonds" is just as energetic with the guitars unplugged, and the touches of banjo and piano are quite tasteful. "We All Look Elsewhere" even maintains the climactic scream in its final chorus, though "God and Drugs," despite driving drumming and dissonant strings, sounds a bit neutered in its new arrangement.
But, again, MacDonald is the star of the show. "The Fight" undergoes the most drastic renovation here. The zippy opening anthem from the band's debut is reborn as a slow-burner with just vocals, guitar and far more emotional impact -- the moment when MacDonald finally enters his upper register is goosebumps-worthy. And "Headlights," while not too far removed from the original, gives the listener a wonderful reminder of how much his voice has grown since that song's 2006 release. The one true ensemble victory is the bonus track "Where Did You Go," a mournful worship song that builds slowly into a swell of horns, bells and pounding drums.
It's the nature of the acoustic album and b-side collection beast -- there will be songs every fan will want to hear again, and there will be some that no fan likes hearing a second time. But as far as acoustic collections go, it doesn't get that much better than What Was Done
. It's a promising sign for the band; after delivering a mostly flat performance in Phoenix
, MacDonald's vulnerability and earnestness seems to have returned in full. Keeping an acoustic album lively for nearly an hour is an impressive feat indeed -- Manchester Orchestra
, take notes.