Plumbiferous Media

Noble Beast - Andrew Bird

Jan 25th 2009
One Comment
Andrew Bird - Noble BeastAndrew Bird
Noble Beast
Score: 74

In “Imi­to­sis,” from Andrew Bird’s last album, Arm­chair Apoc­rypha, Bird sang the lines: “what’s mis­tak­en for close­ness / Is just a case of mito­sis.” Any artist using those lines would prob­a­bly just be look­ing for a clever rhyme, but those words become two of the most impor­tant lines of the track. And if you think that’s the only high point for lyrics on the album, well frankly, you need to lis­ten to the album again. Andrew Bird pro­duces gen­er­al­ly amaz­ing music with his mas­ter­ful lyrics and inter­est­ing, yet care­ful­ly placed vio­lin, an unlike­ly, but fit­ting instru­ment. But despite his pen­chant for musi­cal great­ness, we found his new album, Noble Beast, to be a mixed bag, or real­ly, an unmixed bag:

Bird’s lyrics on Noble Beast fol­low his nor­mal style - they’re com­plex, wordy, occa­sion­al­ly hard to fol­low, and quite hon­est­ly excel­lent. Bird has the art of word­play down per­fect­ly, and his care­ful, alle­gor­i­cal lyrics weave intri­cate sto­ries over the music. Whether Bird is con­sid­er­ing the “harm­less sociopaths,” fas­ci­nat­ing in their innate con­tra­dic­tion, sug­gest­ing a dif­fer­ent “nomen­cla­ture” in the song of that title, or mourn­ing the enig­mat­ic “Sou­ver­ian,” sig­nif­i­cance beyond a sim­ple read­ing is obvi­ous­ly present. Bird uses this expanse of mean­ing to devel­op a great web of lyrics far more tan­gled than most artists could hope to cre­ate. His del­i­cate, mul­ti-faceted vocals serve to tell his sto­ries beau­ti­ful­ly, and, along with his expert whistling, serve as an instru­ment just as valu­able as his ever-present, yet amaz­ing­ly man­age­able vio­lin. The only fault here then is in a dis­tinct lack of vari­a­tion - there can be, after all, too much of a good thing.

Instru­ment-wise, Bird is, as always, con­stant­ly on point through­out the album. The prob­lem is that in this case, con­stant­ly on point means just that - con­stant. A num­ber of the tracks, espe­cial­ly near the begin­ning, have some repet­i­tive note or short sequence played over and over. While this might not be a prob­lem on its own, these notes are at almost exact­ly the same tem­po in each track this occurs. Towards the end the tracks once again very notice­ably encounter the prob­lem of being far too close for com­fort. And sad­ly, the tracks that break this pat­tern have prob­lems of their own. “Effi­gy” starts well but drags and becomes far too pre­dictable. “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” has per­cus­sion that can only be described as annoy­ing, from the squelch­ing sounds in the intro to the dis­tort­ed mess through­out the rest of the track. There are some tracks, most notably “Anonan­i­mal,” that reveal the Andrew Bird that we all wish we could have heard through­out the album, but for the most part Noble Beast is severe­ly lack­ing in the instru­men­tal inge­nu­ity that one nor­mal­ly expects from Bird.

Over­all, Noble Beast is a bit tricky to write about. There are so many great, detailed ele­ments in Noble Beast, from the quite unex­pect­ed start to the melody in “Mas­ter­swarm” and the laid back glis­san­dos in “Nomen­cla­ture,” to the wel­come inter­ludes, “ouo” and “Unfold­ing Fans,” and the impres­sive uni­son between the vocals and vio­lin halfway through “Anonan­i­mal.” And yet, Noble Beast is severe­ly hand­i­capped by a gen­er­al same­ness that over­comes the album, to the point of stran­gling the inge­nu­ity that often fills it.

Andrew Bird isn’t at his best here, but even a decent album from Andrew Bird is a good thing. On Noble Beast, Bird weaves a web of lyri­cal com­plex­i­ty above a sol­id - though by no means out­stand­ing - musi­cal back­bone. What the tracks bad­ly need then is vari­a­tion - they blend togeth­er far too eas­i­ly and are often dif­fi­cult to tell apart. Noble Beast has some great tracks, but as an album it’s often too slow to be tru­ly engag­ing and much too indis­tin­guish­able to be tru­ly excel­lent.

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One Response

  1. Alexander Matheson says:

    Damn good site- in design, aim, thought­ful, rel­e­vant, and use­ful con­tent, and exe­cu­tion. You’ve got­ten a casu­al observ­er six reviews deep. Good bal­ance between the well-known- or rather, wide­ly-trum­pet­ed, and the unde­serv­ing­ly (or not) obscure.
    Now, pub­li­cize your­selves! I can­not under­score the impor­tance of this enough.
    To assem­ble such an use­ful body of work and then to allow it to remain unknown- well, I know that’s not your intent! Nev­er­the­less, con­sid­er con­dens­ing the aim and focus of this project into a mar­ketable slo­gan, and then plas­ter, dig­i­tal­ly or not.
    You’ll undoubt­ed­ly be influ­enc­ing the tracks I spin on air. Keep it going!
    Be well, and peace be.

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