Highlights: Champions Of Red Wine, War On The East Coast, Marching Orders, Wide Eyes
Compared to what passes for intelligent pop music these days, Brill Bruisers is a masterpiece. Compared to Thom Yorke’s latest, it is the greatest album of all time. And yet if we set it against the band’s previous records, Brill Bruisers has the unfortunate distinction of being the weakest. (That’s me saying how much I love Challengers and Together.)
It’s all in the title track. A classic pop single, with a booming melody and trademark backup vocals. But there is something routine-like about the song and it becomes especially evident when the middle eight arrives and you get 30 seconds of New Pornographers magic. Things get quiet; Neko Case is doing those clever “oh-oohs” in the background and A.C. Newman is doing his charming melodic thing. This is what we came here for.
I do feel like a mean-spirited son of a bitch finding faults with these 13 pop gems, but sometimes there’s that extra dimension missing: “Hi-Rise” or parts of “Backstairs”. Even though I do appreciate it when they compensate melodic shortcomings with great inventive wit (Bejar’s “Spidyr”). Mostly, though, it’s a sweet blast of intricate power-pop. Neko-sung “Marching Orders” is so intensely infectious it’s frightening.
Sonically, there’s very little that sets Brill Bruisers apart from the band’s previous albums. They do rely on synths a bit more this time but it’s only this beautiful augmentation interlacing the songs. The synths are particularly prominent in what I believe to be this album’s masterpiece. The gorgeous, anthemic “Champions Of Red Wine” is just an amazing, expertly arranged barrage of hooks. Neko Case’s vocals are both wistful and seductive. When The New Pornographers are good, they are irresistible.
Really, there’s no way a band featuring A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar can release a less-than-great album. And that’s my only complaint: Brill Bruisers is just that, another great New Pornographers album. Wish I could say that about a few other bands.