I suppose I shouldn't be too terribly surprised but the new Hidden Cameras album is not very good.
It's not for lack of trying - it's more that it is trying too hard to be to many things at different times in it's running length...and failing at pretty much all of them.
Joel has been saying recently that he's making a conscious effort to move away from the mega-chamber-pop that defined the first two records. That was hinted at at points on 2006's 'Awoo' - see "Follow These Eyes" for an example - but it is pretty overbearing here. Therefore, the album starts out with 2 minutes of formless drone before "Ratify The New" really gets started...and then goes absolutely nowhere over the course of six-and-a-half minutes.
Things pick up a bit for current single "In the NA" - on album we discover that the only thing extended about the version on the single was the two-minute intro of heavy breathing...lucky us. However even in its shortened version, the song never really takes off - a problem that 'Awoo' ran into frequently as well. It wants to be a big, joyous pop tune but it's just not.
Those two issues pop up over and over on the album. "He Falls To Me" sounds like it is trying very, very hard to retroactively fit in on 'The Smell of Our Own' - I swear that song title sounds familiar so perhaps it is a hold over from that period? - but ends up sound like, well, it is trying to hard.
In the second half of the album we run into another issue. A good chunk of the songs that make up "side b" - if you will - sound like the cast album to The Hidden Cameras - The Musical!. Obviously the band has always had a theatrical side to them - you've seen the live shows, right? - but the songs never suffered for it. Here, they do. Maybe it's my deep-seeded dislike of all things Broadway but it is incredibly off-putting and ruins any chance the album might have of winning me over. We won't even talk about the nonsense that is "Underage" - 80's dance beats and completely ridiculous lyrics that come off sounding totally pervy in an uncomfortably creepy way.
It's completely disheartening for a couple of reasons. First: I love love love this band in ways that are impossible to put into words and it always sucks when your favorites fall. [See also: Super Furry Animals' 'Dark Days/Light Years'.] Second: I honestly didn't think we'd get a fourth Hidden Cameras album proper after all of the stories that had been swirling around the band for the past few years so it's disappointing that what should have been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise is quite the opposite. Third: they still have it in them and there's proof. Hidden away on the "In the NA" EP released a few months ago was a little track called "Mind, Matter and Waste" that was truly a stone cold Hidden Cameras classic. Fourth: there are AMAZING songs hiding in the vaults that, for whatever reason, Joel won't commit to record. Performed during the period between 'The Smell of Our Own' and 'Mississauga Goddam' were two gems called "No Gay Goth Scene" and "Men: Vous Etes Les Memes". Both are totally brilliant - I'd even go as far as to say "No Gay Goth Scene" is my second favorite Hidden Cameras song, behind "Ban Marriage" of course - and both continually get left off of tracklisting after tracklisting whenever a new release comes out. What gives?