The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Andrew Bird
Noble Beast Chris Parkin , February 17th, 2009 10:02

Should any album yearn to buttress the 60 minute mark, it would be well advised to keep a few vague and optional guidelines in mind, especially so when such rabid ADD is ravaging our society. Firstly, it should feel punchy rather than paunchy. Second, it should be so dizzyingly transcendental that by the fifth track you won't have noticed you've grown fingernails two inches longer than that silly American woman's 28ft nose-pickers. Finally, it will be so mind-bogglingly different - nay, difficult - that length will become as irrelevant as criticism. Just one is enough, of course.

So what of Chicago's chamber music-adoring multi-instrumentalist and nu-Americana dude, Andrew Bird? His latest (fourth) album weighs in at a monster fourteen tracks (fifty-four-plus minutes) with a whole second disc to follow on the now-obligatory-for-cult-indie-stars deluxe edition, which is a lot of tune for your singer-songwriter pound. Happily, Bird's elegant, string-swept songs are rarely ever flabby and Noble Beast is just too lovely, prettily melancholic and easygoing to dismiss as indulgent, as his Shins-y, postman-whistling opener 'Oh No', breezy, Hidden Cameras-like 'Fitz & Dizzyspells', 'Effigy''s sleepy, looped fiddle and creepy, Latin folk-inflected and beats-grazed 'Not A Robot, But A Ghost' - redolent of an Eraser-making Thom Yorke - attest.

But in time, it's Bird's easygoing nature here that makes for something less remarkable than its two predecessors, Armchair Apocrypha and Andrew Bird And The Mysterious Production Of Eggs (the one featuring the radio-friendly song about trepanation, 'Fake Palindromes'), or, indeed, quite as transfixing as Department of Eagles own exposition of an older, dustier Americana. Come the final third of Noble Beast, both its mid-tempo and Bird's honeyed, amiable voice begins to turn his songs into a pleasant mush of violin, handclaps, glockenspiel, guitar-picking, theremin and darkly ambient atmospherics, their intricacy lost as he keeps everything tethered in rather than letting it loose.

If only Bird had put as much of his unquestionable talent into making these still-lovely songs sparkle as he did into making his impressive, linguist-challenging lyrics sound so surprisingly light, we'd say Noble Beast is a full hour well spent. Instead, a third of it asks whether the time could have been better spent.