Andrew Bird - Noble Beast (Universal)
27 Feb 2009
"it is rather like rothko, picasso and velasquez combining on a painting, undoubtedly something to behold, if a little confusing on the face of it..."; release - '09
Listening to this record for the first time is a strangely disorienting experience, the same feeling I imagine a foreigner would have had after wandering into a branch of Woolworths (what was the purpose of that store?). Bird's previous record, Armchair Apocrypha, was by all accounts a work bordering on inspirational - lauded by the in-the-know masses and voted the 22nd best album of 2007 by readers of Pitchfork, clearly expectations were high for Noble Beast. So, and I feel strangely British when I write this, does he disappoint? Well, the answer is probably, but not certainly, a no.
My uncertainty in this answer is born from my previously mentioned and so eloquently described confusion as to what this record means. The album flits unsparingly between styles, utilising the talent of no less than ten collaborators to take in multiple instruments and a variety of genres. The resulting collection of songs is something of a mismatch, a lovingly and comprehensively detailed series of parts whose addition does not quite make a whole. It is rather like Rothko, Picasso and Velasquez combining on a painting, undoubtedly something to behold, if a little confusing on the face of it. Indeed, when you learn that the record was recorded partly in Nashville, and partly at Wilco's loft, you can understand from where this eclecticism emerges.
I am tempted to say that pushing the boundaries in this fashion is a commendable quality, yet the more I consider it, the more I come to realise that there aren't really any boundaries being pushed here; it is rather a collection of disparate yet fairly conventional songs. However one could of course argue that this neglect of anything resembling cohesiveness is an act of originality in itself. Whatever the artistic qualities, this is a record that undoubtedly rewards close attention. Lyrically alone it is something of an anomaly, indeed Bird often appears to askew meaning in favour of rhyme, "calcified arhythmatist" anyone? How about "anthurium lacrimae"? However, again this peculiar fondness for the sound of the word is somewhat endearing.
Alt-rock, Jazz, country, bouts of whistling, held together in some fashion by the only constant, Bird's voice, an effortless one at that pitched somewhere between Thom Yorke and Ryan Adams. There is a part of this record for everyone. Yet despite its undeniably inherent value and painstakingly crafted elements, I would be surprised if anyone could truly confess to adoring this as an album. Who knows, maybe after the number of listens enters double figures, a new complexion may emerge, but for now I am afraid I am at a loss to generate a satisfactory level of comprehension.