Clearly, Josh Haden, vocalist and leader of Spain, is a lovelorn man. On Spain's previous record, She Haunts My Dreams (the band's sophomore effort), Haden's lyrics focused on a recently split relationship. While this is standard lyrical fodder for songwriters, Haden took it to a whole other level it seemed obsessive, as if he could not write about anything else. This was a shame, given that the record was a musically strong combination of jazz, pop and slow-core influences She Haunts My Dreams was almost like a jazzier interpretation of the Red House Painters catalogue, but without the Painters' thematic diversity.
I Believe shows that Haden's obsession has not faded; he's still baring his broken heart through his lyrics. He seems to have stagnated musically as well. For the most part, the ideas presented here differ very little from those on the previous record. When Haden makes use of more upbeat rhythms, he's most successful. "She Haunts My Dreams" and "I Believe," two examples of the "up" Spain, are as close as this record comes to pop songs. They both utilize strong, hooky guitar lines and move swiftly through verse and chorus.
Elsewhere the songs vary in quality. The monotonous "Mary" repeats two vocal lines without respite for four and a half minutes, while the beautiful keyboard hook on "Make Your Body Move" hovers well above the usual guitar-bass-drums backing of Spain tracks. Haden's voice largely defines the Spain sound; here, especially in the aforementioned "Mary," he rarely pushes it to any new places, constantly relying on his lower register, an almost monotone drawl, to deliver his repetitive lyrics.
It seems Haden is still mulling over the ideas he presented previously, and was too quick to record this new album in contrast to the four-year gap between Spain's first two albums, this one comes only 18 months after She Haunts My Dreams. Selected tracks from this record and its predecessor would form a very solid album; as it is, I can't recommend I Believe.