There’s a fire going out
But there’s really nothing to the south
Swollen orange and light let through
Your one piece swimmer stuck to you
— Calgary, Bon Iver
Who decides what’s hip? Does some secret society of those in the know sit in a circle stroking their chin – and another body part – as they decree which artists are to be declared this season’s cult heroes?
Bon Iver – certainly never to be confused with Bon Jovi – are this year’s model and it’s a little perplexing. First, Fleet Foxes were anointed with greatness and now this slice of sedateness has the hipsters all aquiver. When did it become so hip to be square?
US singer-songwriter Justin Vernon has a critically-adored backwoods backstory that portrays him as a broken-hearted sort who retreated to a forest log cabin to pen his 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago album for a former flame. Being out of wi-fi internet range is considered so far out there now, apparently.
On this second effort, he’s assembled a band to back his visions of whatever he’s banging on about. It’s hard to tell because – jeebus! – Vernon’s falsetto singing voice is grating with few decipherable lyrics. Falsetto is too often the last refuge of the scoundrel who can’t sing.
To be fair, some lovely sounds are conjured up amid all the mandolins, piano and string stylings and all but it never gels into a memorable whole. Plus it’s hard to shake the feeling that Bon Iver is tinkling away in the background of a pretentious wine party somewhere, right now.
Lead single Calgary is the best of a bland bunch due to at least having a little oomph. Mind you, anything that gets out of first gear sounds exhilarating compared to the general malaise elsewhere.
And why isn’t Peter Gabriel being critically praised to the skies these days? Because that’s who Vernon seems to be channeling most of all here.
But the worst on this album is saved until last with closer Beth/Rest seeing Bon Iver drop the Gabriel stylings and emulate another Genesis offshoot in – no joke – Mike and the Mechanics. Bon Iver must be stopped before a Phil Collins revival becomes a possibility. Against all odds.
Don’t believe the hype and those end-of-year album polls. These emperor’s new clothes are beige.