New Pornographers – Together

The New Pornographers - TogetherThe New PornographersTogether (Matador)

The New Pornographers are one of those bands that I probably wouldn’t have discovered if not for Glorious Noise. The fervor of some of this site’s regular bulletin board contributors was so intense for this band at one point that you actually felt you had to buy a New Pornographers album as admission to reply to any post.

I’d like to know how many of those same supporters feel about this band since 2005’s Twin Cinema, because in my ears, there’s a sense that Carl Newman and company have lost bit a steam in their bid for power-pop perfection.

Or has it been a case where the New Pornographers hit perfection early on, and are now demonstrating the inevitable run of a “good, not great” period that hints at their former glory while never managing to reach it?

Together, the band’s fifth effort, sounds like the record that critics will immediately declare as the record they should have made after Twin Cinema. Those critics—and hell, I’m sure fans themselves will say it too—are correct. The only thing missing from Together is the jaw-dropping greatness that made Twin Cinema the best power-pop record from the last decade, its only competition being Mass Romantic and Electric Version.

What makes it less of a great record is just that: Together is obviously constructed to be a “return to form” instead of a “form to return.” What I mean is that the New Pornographers seemed to form with the intention of jump-starting the power-pop genre that was beginning to fade after a few great moments of prolific promise.

It took a few years, but when the New Pornographers hit their stride, they managed to lay waste to their competitors. It’s when they attempted to “grow”—a strange desire that seems to affect nearly every power-pop band in history—that the indifference began to set it. Yes, Challengers was a disappointment, and now the band suddenly finds themselves trying to balance that weird sense of returning to the peak output of their first three albums while demonstrating the growth they began with album number four.

Does it work?

A little, but there’s still more wrong with Together than right. It certainly sounds more “together,” but it also gives the impression that while everyone is firing on all cylinders, nobody is very eager to take the album on the blacktop and open it up.

Thankfully, Neko Case provides the record with the most consistently good songs, placed at strategic moments; when the album begins to head south, she single-handedly points it north again.

Even Dan Bejar, formerly the New Pornographers’ resident weirdo, contributes material that appears pedestrian at best and nowhere near the acid-eating wonders of prior material.

“And it’s true to love her is all I can do / In a world that’s beaten everything black and blue,” he sings on “Silver Jenny Dollar,” hinting at a bitchin’ trippy chorus to come, only to deliver “They call her Silver Jenny Dollar” for the money shot with sweet harmony “La La La La” backing vocals underneath.

Talk about a buzz kill.

A.C. Newman delivers his share (and the lion’s share) of Together‘s non-threatening songs, but it’s his “Valkyrie In The Roller Disco” that provides the album’s finest moment. The irony is that it is the track that most closely resembles Challengers, with its slow-tempo introspection and forlorn plea for a connection…in a roller disco, of all places. “Stand in the puddles of the disco ball’s glow / C’mon be the one,” Newman sings with Case providing fetching harmonies.

To follow this gem up with the worst song on the album—another Newman penned “A Bite Out Of My Bed”—is as curious as it is frustrating. Like a train wreck, the sound of bouncy horns follows a beautiful ballad, destroying the subtle beauty of the previous song and overall ebb and flow of the record.

Together was billed as the album where the members got together and just let the tape roll. What they’ve given us isn’t necessarily a bad record, and in the hands of lesser artists, it may have even been considered quite good. But since it was created by a conglomerate of well-established musicians who’ve already demonstrated a track record of great releases, Together comes off as something of a letdown.

While it is indeed be better than the last stumble, it’s nowhere near the greatness of Twin Cinema. Which means, at least around these parts, that the New Pornographers may have settled for just another Glorious Noise review, whereas before this band was rightfully front page news.

MP3: New Pornographers – “Your Hands (Together)”

12 thoughts on “New Pornographers – Together”

  1. I was hugely looking forward to this, but so far it feels like I’m actually having to work at liking it. The whole flow of the album really feels like each of the big three are just taking turns creating harmonies that are structured around nothing much.

    Still, I’ll give it some more listens.

  2. I feel compelled to say that, while Challengers has a different emotional tone than the earlier records, it’s also my favourite. Any record with songs like “Unguided”, “Challengers”, “Failsafe”, “All the Old Showstoppers”, and (especially) “Go Places” on it is totally, totally fine with me. But I have been known to dwell in glorious melancholy from time to time…

  3. As both a practitioner and devotee of power pop, I’ve always wanted to like The New Pornographers, but I’ve never felt a connection to their music; kinda like the hot girl you’re just not attracted to. And this new album is no exception.

  4. The surest way to prevent yourself from enjoying a new album is to want it to be something else. (I’m certainly guilty of this myself.) Maybe that’s why we seem to connect with music so deeply when we’re young and everything is new… “beginner’s mind” and all that.

    I think Together is a lot of fun, in an ELO meets the Pointed Sticks kind of way. I like!

  5. I’m kind of of the mind that it’s been diminishing returns since Mass Romantic (though EV and TC are both very good). MR was just such an inspired, loose, giddy poppin’ concoction. I just heard this one and…it’s not terrible, I like the Neko stuff, but I think they ran their course after Twin Cinemas. I just think they’re out of ideas for this ensemble. The last solo AC Newman was just god-awful, too. (But Slow Wonder was wonderful).

  6. I’ve maintained that they were always kinda boring and pretty overrated. I get the feeling others are finally starting to agree. There is a new Teenage Fanclub out soon so why would anyone bother with the NP’s?

  7. Bob, one reason a person would bother is that NP and TF sound NOTHING alike. You can ascribe the same sub-genre to them, I guess, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two power pop bands that sound less alike than the two you lumped together.

  8. True, they sound nothing alike. My point is why would anyone waste ANY time listening to New Pornographers when they could be listening to Teenage Fanclub?

  9. Because a lot of people think NP’s releases, and the first three albums in particular (especially “Mass Romantic” and “Twin Cinema”), are engaging, interesting, wildly tuneful collections of great music made by a cast of outstanding musicians — a view you obviously don’t share. But that’s why they do it, I’d imagine.

  10. “a lot of people think NP’s releases, and the first three albums in particular are engaging, interesting, wildly tuneful collections of great music”

    I would say those people are wrong.

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