Even us apostates who’ve never been able to overcome the obstacles of all that pointless whistling, the precious pizzicato violin-plucking, the obfuscatory nature of the Thesaurus-mining lyrics and the penchant toward arcane and twee sounds such as Tin Pan Alley pop, stodgy 1920s jazz, Kurt Weill cabaret and gypsy folk music always have granted Andrew Bird’s ambition—no one ever could accuse the man of cookie-cutter conformity or a lack of vision—as well as the deep emotional connection he makes with those who do believe, however incomprehensible that may be to the rest of us. So what happens when, on his seventh solo album, the Chicago maestro eliminates one of those hurdles, burning his Scrabble board and talking more directly than he ever has in the lyrics?
Well, sad to say, you’ve still got to tussle with the damned whistling, violin, and pre-rock musical preciousness. And in this corner, the charms of those factors, not to mention Bird’s reedy voice, remain elusive, through both the jauntier tunes (“Desperation Breeds,” “Eyeoneye” or “Lusitania,” a duet with the similarly handicapped Annie Clark/St. Vincent) and the sleepier ballads (“Hole in the Ocean Floor,” “Lazy Projector,” “Fatal Shore”). And, sorry, finally understanding and even appreciating a line such as “We’ll dance like cancer survivors/Like we’re grateful simply to be alive” (from “Near Death Experience Experience,” which turns out to kinda be a—gasp!—love song) doesn’t ultimately make the whole package any more appealing.
Rating on the four-star scale: 1 star.