Highlights: It Was My Season, Down Down The Deep River, Pink-Slips, Where The Spirit Left Us
Last time I reviewed these guys (how the time passes, etc.), I said something to the extent that Okkervil River are capable of recording a truly classic album but always choose not to. Well, maybe not a matter of choice, but The Silver Gymnasium is yet another one that misses the mark ever so narrowly. The question is, what could possibly be wrong with such an overblown, fully-realised collection of songs?
Note, please, that I say ‘overblown’ affectionately. ‘Overblown’ is what this band is about. Copious instrumentation spilling all over the place; Will Shelf’s dramatic vocal delivery; oversized, often anthemic melodies. If you can’t accept any or, preferably, all of that, this is simply not your band.
Speaking of Will Shelf, I rate the guy. The only problem with his songwriting is that on occasion he seems to compensate a lesser tune with overabundance of passion. That said, he is doing quite well here. But my heart is so easily led. When I hear the ecstatic melody of “Pink-Slips” or the clever wording of “Down Down The Deep River”, my expectations spin out of control and I want the whole album to be as brilliant as that. Which simply doesn’t happen. Even if I’ll be hard pressed to name one underwhelming track here. Yes, parts of “Lido Pier Suicide Car” drift by like random autumn leaves, but those ‘aaahs’ towards the end of the song are a mark of genius.
It’s consistency, I guess. Maybe if a song like “John Allyn Smith Sails” (or, indeed, “Pink-Slips”) has never been recorded, my expectations would mean nothing and I would not hesitate and call this album the band’s absolute peak… But if we cut the drama here for a second, we'll just say that The Silver Gymnasium is yet another great collection of songs from Will Shelf’s ever-going, ever-reliable band.
Well, and then again: maybe next time.