The New Pornographers, Challengers
Meh. The thing is, I know they’re good, I’m sure they are; all the right people are saying all the right things about them, it’s plain that they’re absurdly talented musicians and they’ve been on David Letterman, all of that. And yet – meh. For those who haven’t heard of The New Pornographers, they are often termed a ‘Canadian supergroup’ (a totally bizarre accolade that brings to mind some ungodly collaboration between Win Butler, Bryan Adams and Avril Lavigne, perhaps in aid of protecting the Arctic wolf) despite the fact that you probably won’t have heard of the bands they were each part of before. Instruments of choice include wurlitzers, mandolins, glockenspiels and banjos as well as a range of vocal turns, notably from Neko Case, the redheaded star of the show despite the Pornographers being the baby of lyricist and chief songwriter A.C. Newman.
This, the band’s fourth album, is a little more comfy, a little more quiet and perhaps a little more safe than its predecessors. Though Challengers will certainly be considered a mature and sophisticated effort, it veers dangerously near to MOR territory at times, particularly as the tempo remains at a constant mellow trot throughout. The organic warmth of tracks like closer ‘The Spirit of Giving’ makes for a perfect bedtime record, but that’s also down to rather too many forgettable filler tracks and a soporific quality that overly orchestrated pop can often succumb to.
Fans of quirky, melodic pop full of unusual instruments and rich harmonies (Belle and Sebastian springs to mind) should buy this immediately, and no doubt the Observer Music Monthly and Uncut will hail it with showers of stars. But, I’m afraid, for me it’s still, y’know, meh.