The Polyphonic Spree - Together we're heavy

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The Polyphonic Spree - Together we're heavy

The Polyphonic Spree - Together we're heavy
MP3 | 320 Kbps | 86,21 Mb | No covers

Glen Engel Cox "" (Washington, DC USA) - See all my reviews
Whatever happened to the concept album? It seemed in the 70s and 80s that you couldn't escape them, that every band with any pretension of artistry released one, if not more, and this fueled the creation and increasing importance of Album Oriented Rock radio, which often featured special shows that would play these discs in their entirety (usually carefully preceded and followed by enough silence that home tapers could be sure of getting a clean copy in an early example of file sharing). Rock operas like the Who's Tommy and Pink Floyd's The Wall shared the time with thematically connected collections like Alan Parson's I, Robot. Songs ranged out of the perfect pop three-minute mark to sometimes covering entire sides of LPs, like Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick, or would merge seamlessly from one track to the next such as Joe Jackson's Blaze of Glory. Such grandiosity seemed to go the way of the dodo in the 90s, as grunge and indie rock strove to return to rock's roots in the 1950s, as if Bill Haley and Jerry Lee Lewis were fighting back against Sgt. Pepper. A few bands, now labeled "art rock" or progressive, continued to hold the candle, but radio ditched them for the new kids on the block.

Proving that things always go in cycles, The Polyphonic Spree act like they've been handed Sgt. Pepper's baton, sounding like nothing more than the second coming of that era-Beatles combined with the song structures of Yes or early Genesis and a larger band than Funkadelic at its most extreme. Their first album, The Beginning Stages of…, was extremely uneven: a series of demos that proved the concept of 20-plus members creating music in a communal style was viable and not a disaster. Released basically unedited and unproduced, it shows glimpses of possibilities, the best moments being in the song "Night and Day" that fully harkened back to concept albums of the past with its enigimatic story and alternating passages of whisper-quiet sweet melodies and bombastic fanfares. Based on that album, word-of-mouth and some high-profile festival appearances (including a personal invite from David Bowie, himself not a stranger to outre concepts, for an early English gig), the Polyphonic Spree landed a contract with a larger label and enough money and time to furnish the second album with a production to match their vision.

Together We're Heavy actually continues the themes brought forward in the first album. In fact, the first song is titled "Section 11 (We Sound Amazed)," indicating that the ten songs of The Beginning Stages of… were sections one through ten. The lyrics are optimistic to an Candide-like extreme, celebrations of life and its possibilities. They worship growth, nature, the sun, and dreams. The sounds match this positivism with bright horn sections, tinkling keyboards, flowing harp sections and ethereal flute intersections.

The group itself is the brainchild of one man, Tim DeLaughter, a veteran of the more usual rock four-piece, a band called Tripping Daisy. In 1999, his friend and band guitarist Wes Berggren died to a drug overdose, which seemed to have initiated a road to Damascus conversion for DeLaughter, who emerged next on a musical stage with his three former bandmates, his wife, and nine other friends, calling themselves The Polyphonic Spree. Since then, they've added another ten members, made robes their on-stage garment (initially white with individual color fringes, now with one piece solid colors, so that on stage they look like a living, moving rainbow), and become one of the most talked about new acts of the 21st century. The robes and celebratory aspect of their music have led to some naïve questions about whether they constitute a cult, met with laughter by DeLaughter, who instead compares the group and their energetic stage show to a theatrical event (think Godspell or Hair).

While the songs on Together We're Heavy can be listened to individually (in fact, my first experience with it was a single on a sampler disc in Paste magazine), listening to all ten straight will take you back twenty or thirty years. DeLaughter's slightly whiny lead vocals resemble Roger Waters, even if his lyrics are the antithesis of Waters' angst, despair and loathing, while the music harkens to Genesis' style right after Peter Gabriel's departure. The repetition of bits and pieces owes as much to 70s progressive rock as it does to the sampling and mixing of the 90s, and, like their stage show, infuses the listener with a silly grin on their face. I'm fondest of the way that the Spree incorporates a multitude of voices in a choir-like backing for DeLaughter (something prefigured in, for example, the kids choir of "Another Brick in the Wall part 2").

I like this much more than I ever would have expected, even though I consider my fondness for art rock predisposes me to it. I guess I thought I had grown out of that phase of my listening life, but there's something about the Spree's version of it–be it a perceived genuineness behind their eternal optimism or how they have updated the concept with current production values–that never fails to elicit a silly smile on my face. I urge you to give "Section 12 (Hold Me Now)" a try and see if you don't also find yourself humming along and pulling out the incense burner.

1. Section 11 (A Long Day Continues/We Sound Amazed)
2. Section 12 (Hold Me Now)
3. Section 12 (Diamonds/Mild Devotion To Majesty)
4. Section 14 (Two Thousand Places)
5. Section 15 (Ensure Your Reservation)
6. Section 16 (One Man Show)
7. Section 17 (Suitcase Calling)
8. Section 18 (Everything Starts At The Seam)
9. Section 19 (When The Fool Becomes A King)
10. Section 20 (Together We're Heavy)