Andrew Bird Break It Yourself(Mom+Pop (U.S.) Bella Union (U.K.)) Buy it from Insound
In my ideal world, Andrew Bird is what qualifies as pop music. He writes songs about love, they’re sweet, his voice is soft and he sounds like the sort of guy you could introduce to your grandparents. It’s not like his songs aren’t catchy because they are, give Give It Way (sadly not a folk cover of the Chili’s masterpiece) or Eyeoneye a go and you’ll be humming and singing for a day. It’s not like he’s too different and therefore inaccessible to the mainstream, it’s just a man and an acoustic guitar with the odd set of strings from time to time. Really, he should be hugely popular, but the closest to platinum records Andrew Bird can expect to come is the sudden burst of iTunes downloads when one of his songs is inevitably used on an advert for a dating service or a mobile phone service. Goddamn you Match.com.
Admittedly, it is a samey album. Andrew Bird is hardly David Byrne; I doubt he has much interest in making huge and sudden tonal changes on his albums. It’s a disappointing tradition with folk albums that the songs are all quite similar and the weirdest, most out there bit of instrumentation you’re likely to hear is a man whistling. But that comes with the territory and not everyone can be Radiohead, changing your style with ease. And, to be honest, if you made songs like Andrew Bird, would you bother trying something different? The old mantra of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” really shines through, partly to the album’s benefit, partly to its detriment. There are signs of an effort to be different to the rest, Orpheo Looks Back sounds like an action movie sound track played on a fiddle and there are hints of a fondness for the traditional folk style, the style perfected by the Pogues, on Danse Carribe, but overwhelmingly the album is a straight down the line, modern folk album. If you were feeling unbelievably critical then you’d say this record just isn’t exciting. But, like criticising him for lacking diversity, that’s missing the point. He’s not Public Enemy, inspiring generations to be politically active. He’s not Led Zeppelin; he can’t suddenly break into a guitar solo to make a dull song exciting. He makes elegiac songs about break-ups and falling in love.
The stand out track, and by that I mean the track most likely to be ruined by a marketing campaign, is Sifters. Taking on the Time Traveller’s Wife style idea of would they still love each other if they had been born at different times, the song floats around a simple repeated chord and mixes a fey indie style with a Romantic, Shelley-esque vision of the night sky and the sea and a story about bringing cookies to the older version of the love of his life. It’s gorgeous and tender in the exact way that love songs should be and I don’t think it would be too much to mention Nick Drake in the same breath. His most Nick Drakey moment is the opening chorus to Desperation Breeds, complete with that hum of voice and mellifluous repetition of a word, a la Drake on Pink Moon.
When the sun shines outside, I challenge you to listen to Break It Yourself and not smile. Stop the cynicism, accept it for what it is and smile, smile with an undercurrent of sadness at the joy of at Lazy Projector and Near Death Experience. Put simply, it’s lovely.14 May, 2012 - 08:57 — James McKenna