In the space of little more than a year, Texan symphonic-pop army the Polyphonic Spree have become their own little cottage industry: they've helped sell everything from Volkswagens to iPods, have toured relentlessly on both sides of the Atlantic, appeared in full regalia on an episode of Scrubs
and found a major label willing to fit the bill for the whole thing. As if that weren't enough, Tim Delaughter and his troops even bumped perennial favorites the Flaming Lips from the top of the symphonic-pop heap, and earned rave reviews for their debut, The Beginning Stages of?
. While everybody and their mothers were busy heaping adoration upon the band, music fans wondered aloud how, or if, they would follow such an auspicious debut.
On Together We're Heavy, Delaughter refines his Phil Spector-meets-David Koresh shtick into a gleefully cohesive miasma of sound -- a heady mix of pastoral psychedelia and symphonic exuberance amplified by infectious electric fervor. While it's not a concept record per se, the oddball narrative strain that runs through Together We're Heavy revisits familiar themes, finding new sources of inspiration along the way: "A Long Day Continues / We Sound Amazed" features a chanted coda cribbed from "It's the Sun", and "Two Thousand Places" wafts along on a melodic variation plucked directly from "Soldier Girl". The incorporation of these familiar themes could easily sink into self-parody, but to the Spree's credit, the stealthy manner with which they're delivered injects the album with an immediately recognizable sense of warmth and comfort.
The sun's majestic rays remain Delaughter's primary source of lyrical inspiration, but between their luminous strands he has unfurled a bevy of whimsical tales, providing Together We're Heavy's massive arrangements with a solid narrative foundation and drawing listeners in with fantastical tales of a leader's ascension ("Two Thousand Places"), royal hermitage ("Diamonds / Mild Devotion to Majesty") and a girl who gives up everything in order to truly embrace the world that surrounds her ("When the Fool Become a King"). It's all hopelessly idealistic, but when Delaughter sings "it means a lot to find it so easy", you can't help but get swept up in the joy, if only for a few minutes.
After only two albums, there are already signs that fresh ideas are running low. While it's more grandiloquent than its predecessor, Together We're Heavy doesn't sound markedly different from the group's debut. That said, it's clear that Delaughter has stumbled upon a winning formula, both in resonant and fiscal terms, and any major changes could well ruin his good thing and send him reeling back towards a Tripping Daisy reunion hitch.
This is a crucial album for the Polyphonic Spree -- it's either the end of an era, or a completely new beginning. In either case, you know there's a rainbow waiting for them on the other side of the mountain.