|The New Pornographers - Electric Version|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Dan MacIntosh|
|Tuesday, 06 May 2003|
| Performance 8 | Sound 6 |
If you’re lucky enough to hear The New Pornographers on the radio, you might think you’re listening in on a ‘70s/’80s New Wave rock hit you don’t quite recall ever hearing before. But this band’s second album, Electric Version, is actually a new album built upon old styles. Its primary contributors are Carl Newman (of Zumpano) and the usually more country-ish Neko Case, who trade off lead vocals for a winning bit of recorded retro fun.
At the same time these musicians are reaching to the past for vintage rock sounds, in many instances, they’re hearkening back to the primary concerns of pre-adults in writing their lyrics. Such an approach can be found in the character study of “Miss Teen Wordpower,” and also on the teen awkwardness expressed through “Testament to Youth in Verse.” At times, though, it’s hard to figure out just what they’re going on about. For example, the lesbian rage sung about on “Chump Change” is nearly impossible to penetrate.
The aforementioned “Testament to Youth in Verse” features this album’s best musical moment, which is a chiming and harmonic vocal bridge, created to sound like human bells ringing. Electric Version’s most distinctive instruments are its keyboards, which weave in and out of these songs like a connecting thread. Often, the album brings to mind Katrina & The Waves, especially on the tracks “All for Swinging You Around” and “It’s Only Divine Right.” Elsewhere, “Ballad of a Comeback Kid” rolls on top of jangle-y guitar, and “July Jones” jerks to a semi-reggae beat. Listen closely to into of “The New Face of Zero and One,” and you’ll hear a click-clacking drum thing -- just like the kind we used to hear on old Adam Ant records.
Despite this album’s smart lyrics and fun musicianship, Carl Newman’s weedy vocals start to get on the nerves after a while. He just doesn’t have the kind of voice to give these songs optimal emotional range. He’s heard leading the charge far more often than Neko Case is, which is a shame since she’s clearly the better singer of the two.
“Electric Version,” and The New Pornographers in general, is a cool concept, that doesn’t hold together so well as an album of music. It may not be disposable -- like so much from the New Wave era of pop music ultimately was and is -- but it’s still not something that is particularly memorable, either.