Thursday, September 6

Poppers Lose Some Power and Gain Some Perspective

Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: Challengers

Comments: Despite their R rated name (for adult themes, adult content, and brief nudity), the New Pornographers has been delighting families with their sugar-sweet-but-tooth-ache-free brand of power pop since the turn of the millennium. The Canadian group has been gaining steam since their spirited debut (the wall-of-noise joy-fest of Mass Romantic) and their well received follow-up (the sterile cleaning power of Electric Vision). After their fantastic 2005 album Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers were poised to break out of indie rock and take over the world, which is why Challengers is such a disappointment.

There is nothing wrong with the most recent effort from the New Pornographers, per say. Challengers is more of what people have come to expect from the band; power pop focused on vocal harmony, lead by stadium guitars, and powered by ambiguous, catchy songwriting. The starts off slow with “My Rights Versus Yours,” an excellent song that won’t rock you like a hurricane or lull you to sleep; it’s the definition of mid-tempo. Elsewhere on the album, “Myriad Harbor” kicks things up a notch with some serious rock harmonica and lyrics about pretty girls being pretty.

In fact, there are a lot of good songs on this record. The problem is that these songs seem to exist in a vacuum. While the album is on, Challengers is a good an album as any other New Pornographers album. However, once the disc stops spinning the music fades from thought. Besides the two songs listed and “Mutiny I Promise You” which sounds like a Twin Cinema b-side, there isn’t a single song that will bury into your brain and hold you in its twisted clutches. If a pop record can’t get stuck in your head and stick with you it can’t be great because that is what pop music is supposed to do.

If there is blame to be placed, place it on the songwriters. Too many of the songs on Challengers are slower, less powerful numbers that turn the amps back from 11 and offer to tuck you in for a night of reading by the fireplace. Songs like “Challengers” and “Unguided” are nice, but lack the punch need to stick to the ribs. Even the rockers like “All The Things That go to Make Heaven and Earth” and “Entering White Cecelia” are edgeless and hollow.

While not a bad record, Challengers is a disappointment in how disposable it is. For a band like the New Pornographer who made their name on giving weight to a genre so often slammed for being shallow, for them to make an album that sucks the power out of their pop is to take away the thing that makes them such an important band. Challengers is a fine album to play for a quiet, safe night in, but the Pornographers sound better when they’re out on the town, singing their lungs out, and daring you not to sing along.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Key Tracks: My Rights Versus Yours, Myriad Harbor, Unguided, Mutiny I Promise You

Worth The Money: Only just

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