It's easier to nitpick the ones you love than to sit down and explain
why you love 'em. If the first things that stick out on the New
Pornographers' Twin Cinema are the flaws amateurish cover
art, an unfortunate song title ("Sing Me Spanish Techno") or two
well, that's because the Vancouver indie supergroup made so few
missteps over the course of its two previous albums, Mass
Romantic and The Electric Version.
Luckily, the next thing that sticks out is how great the songwriting
is (again), from the multiple movements and eventual rollicking sing-
along of "The Bleeding Heart Show" to the fantastic "Streets of
Fire," a duet between Neko Case and Dan Bejar. (Let those eight words
roll around and marinate: a duet between Neko Case and Dan Bejar.
Nice.) The song's resigned embrace of the chaos all around ("sweet,
sweet, sweet, sweet fire in the streets") is just one of the high
points on the band's most grounded album to date, one that dials back
on the hyperactive immediacy of Electric Version for something
more restrained and timeless.
Nothing here surpasses the best tracks from Mass Romantic
it's hard to get over a first crush like "The Fake Headlines" but
"Use It" makes a mighty effort with its propulsive piano, crunching
guitars, and well-turned phrases: "Two sips from the cup of human
kindness and I'm shitfaced/ Just laid to waste." Such lines can
sometimes brim over with excess cleverness when put under the
microscope, but the real attraction is the voices anyway A.C.
Newman's sharp and clean, Case's warm and strong, Bejar's high-
pitched and wonderfully strange on the pointillist pizzicato of
"Jackie Dressed in Cobras," a sequel of sorts to the debut's
"Jackie." Bejar's off-kilter compositions, about three per album,
provide an essential shot of sour to offset Newman's power-pop sweet
tooth. Although he seems content with being more of a secret weapon
than a full-time band member, Bejar will tour with the New
Pornographers this fall, with his own band Destroyer as the opening
act, giving fans a rare chance to hear NP faves like "Execution Day"
sung by the man himself.
Neko Case who caused consternation for the backers of "Letter From
an Occupant" by declining to come along on some tour dates earlier
this summer continues her key role as the belter-out of harmonies,
but her best solo moments on Twin Cinema are melancholy. "The
Bones of an Idol" tiptoes in with bells and piano before swooshing to
life with slide guitar and the cries of a chorus; the lovely "These
Are the Fables" goes without drums for its first half and paints with
abstractions ("Ten thousand dancing girls kicking cans 'cross the
sky/ No reason why") before shifting into a bouncy melody worthy of
Squeeze or Madness.
In danger of hitting the point of "OK, we get it" when that zap
of newness wears off and a successful band suddenly feels less than
essential the New Pornographers instead come up pretty big on
Twin Cinema, transitioning to a sound just as catchy as their
old stuff but with more space for the tunes to breathe. Three solid
albums and a growing pile of near-perfect singles not bad for the
band that claims to have chosen its name because they were "just