Friday, 6 July 2007

Album Review: The Fragile Army

The Polyphonic Spree's 2002 debut coincided with a period of new respect for over-sized band line-ups, from Broken Social Scene through Arcade Fire and Architecture in Helsinki. Since then, the Spree have made two wonderfully euphoric albums and have become an amazing live experience. What they have lacked, though, is any sort of substance.

Until now.

To revitalise their pursuit of joy-mongering, Tim DeLaughter and wife/co-leader Julie Doyle have pared their joyous horde down from 28 members to 24, switched the band uniform from robes to black combat garb, and made a return to the more compact pop songs of the debut album. The songs on The Fragile Army are rock songs embellished with horns and choir. On the previous albums the horns and choir were the songs.

The title track is an anti-Bush Bohemian Rhapsody, while Section 29 [Light To Follow], which establishes the record's over-arching subject - "love in a mixed-up time" - explores new sounds for the group, from electronic beats to an Air-like bass groove, achieving a spacey ambiance.

Section 31 [Overblow Your Nest] is one of DeLaughter's more emotionally sophisticated songs and also an existential assertion of self, "I want this world to know that I'm alive," he cries on the surging chorus. It's an individualistic mantra that's at odds with Spree's egoless concept - many voices joining as one to accomplish any goal, overturn any war monger. More familiar are his Wayne Coyne-esque claims of "together we're all right" on Section 25 [Younger Yesterday] and "when we're both together, I know that we'll be just fine" on Section 26 [We Crawl].

While the emergent first single Section 22 [Running Away] is thrilling, it's Section 30 [Watch Us Explode (Justify)] that is the most comprehensive demonstration of what the Spree can do, with its trilling flutes, imperial horns, bombastic strings and fleet-fingered guitar fills.

The Fragile Army is an all-out orchestral and choral assault of optimism, and while it be the stop-start riff of Section 23 [Get Up And Go] or the clip-clop of 20-plus pairs of feet marching in time on Section 25 [Younger Yesterday] that gets you, rest assured you will succumb to this merry maelstrom that's triumphant from end-to-end.

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