Plumbiferous Media

Wooden Arms - Patrick Watson

Apr 30th 2009
Wooden Arms - Patrick WatsonPatrick Watson
Wooden Arms
Score: 91

With his fifth album, the new Wood­en Arms, Mon­tre­al-based Patrick Wat­son has cre­at­ed an absolute­ly unique, won­der­ful­ly musi­cal album which dis­plays not only his for­mi­da­ble tal­ent but also an impres­sive amount of musi­cal inno­va­tion.

Wat­son is an incred­i­bly tal­ent­ed vocal­ist, as he repeat­ed­ly demon­strates through­out Wood­en Arms. Through­out the album, his breathy, ethe­re­al voice cul­ti­vates the breath­tak­ing atmos­phere cre­at­ed by his music. How­ev­er soft Watson’s voice becomes, it retains a marked lev­el of pow­er and pres­ence which places him far above many singers of the same style. His back­up vocal­ist, present on sev­er­al tracks, helps to pro­vide a full range of sound which fur­ther aug­ments the rich­ness of the vocals, though her vocals are not quite as strong alone. Nev­er­the­less, Watson’s amaz­ing grasp of pitch, skilled blend­ing of vocals and instru­men­tals, and the exquis­ite­ly wist­ful tone of his voice cre­ate an enthralling mix­ture of sounds.

The lyrics of Wood­en Arms are well-com­posed and pos­sess the same ethe­re­al aes­thet­ic as the vocals, as Wat­son sings sub­lime tales tak­en from the same realm as his vocals. The lyrics con­tain grip­ping­ly yearn­ing tales, includ­ing the embrace of the “wood­en arms” them­selves on the title track. As Wood­en Arms pro­gress­es, Wat­son sings of see­ing Bei­jing “through some­one else’s life / that I’m not sure belongs to me,” draw­ing a pecu­liar pic­ture of majesty on “Bei­jing,” and sings of the plight of the “Big Bird in a Small Cage,” pro­claim­ing “You put a big bird in a small cage / and he’ll sing you a song,” in that imagery-laden, high­ly metaphor­ic track. Among these unearth­ly sto­ries, Wat­son has cre­at­ed the true sense of won­der which dis­tin­guish­es Wood­en Arms.

While the vocals main­tain an ethe­re­al qual­i­ty through­out the album, the instru­men­tals remain absolute­ly stun­ning. Every sin­gle part is intri­cate, both har­mon­i­cal­ly and melod­i­cal­ly, the ranges work excel­lent­ly, and while the instru­men­tals some­times over­whelm the par­tic­u­lar­ly qui­et vocal part, they are per­fect­ly mixed with respect to each oth­er. In addi­tion, regard­less of the set of instru­ments that Wat­son uses, be it any com­bi­na­tion of per­cus­sion, piano, gui­tar, bells, strings, gen­er­al synth, or cho­rus, the instru­ments blend per­fect­ly togeth­er, and cre­ate a beau­ti­ful sound that not only fits, but also defines the tracks. And Wat­son does not stop at stan­dard instru­ments (the sur­pris­ing­ly melod­ic use of the sound of a bicy­cle wheel at the end of Bei­jing is a per­fect exam­ple).  Parts of the album could be more diverse, but tracks like “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Machin­ery of the Heav­ens,” and the per­cus­sion solo in “Bei­jing” give the album an over­all sense of diver­si­ty.

Besides the occa­sion­al issue with lack of vol­ume, or the even less fre­quent issue of rep­e­ti­tion (“Big Bird in a Small Cage”), Wood­en Arms does sup­port one major flaw: all the tracks have their dynam­ic phras­es, but the album often feels devoid of emo­tion­al ten­sion. It can evoke feel­ings or images with the col­or­ful choice of instru­ments, but the music itself often feels too casu­al with its lack of pas­sion. Luck­i­ly, on such an amaz­ing­ly inter­est­ing and detailed album, the need for more emo­tion can gen­er­al­ly be over­looked.

With Wood­en Arms, Wat­son has glo­ri­ous­ly swal­lowed lis­ten­ers into his “thou­sand dreams.” Between incred­i­bly var­ied, well-orches­trat­ed instru­men­tals, for­mi­da­ble vocal prowess, and exem­plary, emo­tion­al­ly-laden lyrics, Wood­en Arms is not only the best album Wat­son has cre­at­ed after a series of excel­lent albums, but an excel­lent album in its own right. Wood­en Arms is a breath­tak­ing suc­cess, and its few flaws fade into insignif­i­cance in the face of the album as a whole.

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5 Responses

  1. Paul De Man says:

    Is it pos­si­ble to have the lyrics of: Big bird in a small cage?

  2. Lyricman says:

    re: Big Bird Lyrics,
    These are, as far as I can tell, what I think the lyrics are:

    There was a house halfway round the world,
    and I was invit­ed in for a small taste of gin.
    There was a hall­way thou­sand birds long,
    but the biggest one of all was in a-
    cage too small.

    I asked the care­tak­er cause he owes the mak­er.
    Looked at me and laughed,
    took anoth­er sip from his glass and said:
    “Open up your ears and heart.
    “You put a big bird in a small cage it’ll sing you a song.”

    That we all love to sing along,
    to the sound of the bird that longs (mourns).

    Well we rolled into town, into sweet New Orleans,
    to the Apple Bell bar; it was a hole in the wall.
    The ceil­ings weren’t tall, the floors were the ground,
    but the sounds you were mak­ing just warm your hearts.

    Well it was quar­ter to twelve when the boys walked in.
    They put their black suits on and the songs would begin.
    You open up your ears and hearts;
    you put a big bird in a small cage it’ll sing you a song.

    That we all love to sing along,
    to the sound of the bird that longs (mourns).

    (To the sound of the bird that longs (mourns).) x3
    (You put a big bird in a small cage it’ll sing you a song.) x4

    btw great review.

  3. Hugo says:

    wood­en arm lyrics please!!!!!

  4. Eduardo says:

    Un Gran Dis­co!!!!
    Admiro mucho a Patrick Wat­son.

  5. Drlion says:

    where can i find the lyrics to Machin­ery Of The Heav­ens? i search and search with no results 🙁

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