splendid > reviews > 5/5/2003
The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers
Electric Version

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "The Laws Have Changed"

Buy me now
Who am I kidding? The majority of you reader types, unless you're uptight "emotional rock" fans who break out in hives at the mere suggestion of a conventional melody, are going to buy Electric Version no matter what I say about it. The New Pornographers could release an entire disc of field recordings of elephants taking a shit and still move 25,000 copies on the strength of Mass Romantic's buzz. Whether you discovered New Porn back in 2000 or just last month, you're certain to be eager to hear what else they have up their super-group sleeves...

So let's get this out of the way right now: Electric Version does little to alter the successful New Pornographers formula. It's a longer, louder and (most importantly) more assured album than its predecessor, but if you liked Mass Romantic, you won't be disappointed. And if you disliked Mass Romantic, you may have a difficult time telling the two albums apart.

Once again, New Porn dish up a heady stew of power-pop and glam reference-points: you'll detect early Bowie, later Beatles, classic Cheap Trick and that weird Warren Zevon/Todd Rundgren axis of prog-pop. You may also note traces of Ben Folds Five, or uncover a link to Thin Lizzy's radio-friendly (albeit profoundly unfashionable) seventies anthems or Meatloaf's theatrics. We're talking layered vocal harmonies -- in particular, the interplay between Carl Newman and Neko Case -- teamed with detail-intensive, twisty-turny melodies; that's what you get when almost everyone in your band is a songwriter in his/her own right. Such is the intricacy of Electric Version's material that you're unlikely to get an entire song lodged in your head; you'll surrender tracts of mental real-estate to "Chump Change"'s insidious "whoop-whoop" lead-in, and sing along to memorable lyric-snippets like "flew into a lesbian rage", but it'll take you weeks to soak it all in. You'll find early favorites, such as front-running "Letter to An Occupant"-equivalent "The Laws Have Changed", discover late-blooming favorites like new wave-meets-Kiwi-pop barn-burner "It's Only Divine Right", and eventually come to wonder how you ever lived without the keyboard-droning goodness of "Miss Teen Wordpower". You'll also gain a greater appreciation for Neko Case's seemingly endless supply of time and energy: the songs on which she and Carl Newman share vocal duties are, predictably, the disc's highlights, as her throaty twang contrasts wonderfully with his slightly nasal delivery.

Although a handful of tunes -- "Testament to Youth in Verse" and the middle portion of "Ballad of a Comeback Kid" spring to mind -- suggest a gentle expansion of the group's sound, nothing on Electric Version will take you by surprise. It certainly isn't a creative crisis just yet, and Messrs. Newman, Thurier, et al deserve to take their successful formula to the bank after their years in the indie trenches, but if New Porn truly is an ongoing concern, album number three will have to explore some fresher territory. Yes, Electric Version is a pop record, and you may (mistakenly) perceive buying it to be a rare concession to "mainstream" music, but don't kid yourself -- it's still far too oblique for the average Christina Aguilera fan's tastes. In other words, if the New Pornographers ever disappoint their staunch indie rock fanbase, look for things to get very grim for the band very quickly.

To summarize: buy Electric Version. Play it for all of your friends. Listen to it at public nuisance volume all summer long. But don't be afraid to fess up when you're tired of it.



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