Friday, March 02, 2007

Peter Bjorn and John: Writer's Block

Peter Bjorn and John
Writer’s Block (Almost Gold)
Grade: B+

So I’ve been digesting this record for about three weeks now. I like to take my time with albums that have been hyped as much as this one has; sort of as a means of combat it. This way, I can decide conclusively if the record actually deserves the acclaim it has received. It’s why I will stand by my Menomena review every day of the week and twice on Sunday. It’s because I listened to that record pretty much non-stop after it came out for a couple of weeks, and then declared it to be bullshit.

After many months of blog-induced anticipation, Writer’s Block finally reached U.S. shores three weeks ago. While there is certainly a lot to recommend about Writer’s Block , it isn’t quite the life-changing endeavor that the online community has made it out to be.

The reason that PB and J (huh, that’s weird) don’t reach this goal with Writer’s Block is certainly not due to a lack of great songs. The problem is that the miscalculation of ending the record with two songs that are in stark contrast with the rest of the album.

But hey, I’m willing to put up with two duds if the rest of the eight songs are indie-pop excellence. Writer’s Block first full song is “Objects of My Affection,” a song that sounds like what The Smiths would write once Morrissey finally got over his melodramatic, though perhaps tongue-in-cheek, adolescent angst. A lyric like “I laugh more often now/I cry more often now/I am more free” is the kind of thing you’d hear from a guy who is moving on, heartbroken, but most definitely wiser because of the experience. The music is driven by a galloping, waltzing drum beat, jangly guitars and super-melodic whistling. After the chorus, the band gets blanketed with keyboards, and the effect is awe-inspiring.

After “Objects”, Writer’s Block really opens up with “Young Folks,” which, if our side of the Atlantic really had good taste in pop music, would knock down the doors of the Hot 100 charts like it was David Caruso on “CSI: Miami.” Bongos, more joyful whistling, and a coy, purring female vocal (guest Victoria Bergsman of the Concretes) make for a playful, catchy song. “Young Folks” was top 40 hit on the UK singles chart. What the hell are we doing listening to “Lips of An Angel”?

And so it goes for the rest of the album, including highlights like "Amsterdam" and "Let's Call It Off."

So then what’s the problem if there are so many great songs on Writer’s Block ?

The end of the record felt a bit anti-climatic to me. The last two songs, “Roll The Credits” and “Poor Cow,” are in stark contrast with the rest of the record in terms of tone. Both are slow, ponderous and dull.

Normally, I’d be happy with a band throwing its listeners a sonic curve ball. I should love “Roll The Credits,” in theory, due to the fact that it reminds me of Isn’t Anything -era My Bloody Valentine. But if I wanted to listen to MBV, I would. “Poor Cow” is simple, acoustic song like the kind that Big Star end their records with. Again, if I’d wanted to listen to Big Star, I’d listen to Big Star.

The contrast between these two songs with the rest of Writer's Block is too great. Which is a shame because they weaken the impact of what was an amazing album. Instead, it’s just a really, really good one.

(Jonathan Graef)

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