The Polyphonic Spree | The Fragile Army (TVT)

cd_polyOn The Fragile Army, the still 20-plus-member Polyphonic Spree take occasional steps away from sounding like a glee club conducted by Wayne Coyne. The songs (or "sections," as the band calls them) get sadder and angrier than those on previous albums, and the instrumentation varies beyond drums, guitar, and chorus.

 

 

 

The Polyphonic Spree is a gigantic band of people who wear colorful robes and play big, happy songs. Or, at least they were; not anymore. The band is a few members smaller and they now wear black jumpsuits. As for the big, happy songs, well, some things never change—or in the case of The Fragile Army, they change just a little.

Not that there's anything wrong with big, happy songs. The first two Polyphonic Spree albums proved that a band with over 20 members could perform accessible pop songs without getting unruly and without stretching the songs out too long, except for the 36-minute closing track on The Beginning Stages Of.

On The Fragile Army, the still 20-plus member Polyphonic Spree take occasional steps away from sounding like a glee club conducted by Wayne Coyne. The songs (or "sections," as the band calls them) get sadder and angrier than those on previous albums, and the instrumentation varies beyond drums, guitar, and chorus.

The sound is still big but this time the songs are tighter and more diverse. The tracks are (thankfully) too short to be divided into rock opera-type movements, but they aren't just choruses and verses. On the bridge of the title track, all instruments drop out except for one vocal and piano. On other songs the band's choral section use their voices like strings in an orchestra, strengthening changes in moods and bringing out the full potential of the melodies.

Even the ideas that seem like they could never work with a band like this work great on the album. The best example of this is the largely electronic "Light to Follow," which could be the band's best display of versatility.

Clearly, the Polyphonic Spree isn't afraid to take chances, and the best songs on Fragile Army are the ones that don't sound like traditional Polyphonic Spree songs. It's too bad those more experimental songs are surrounded by…traditional Polyphonic Spree songs. For example, when the band explores—and does quite well with—dance-ish rock on "Mental Cabaret," the followup track "Guaranteed Nightlife" falls flat by comparison.

One thing every track on this album has in common though is tight instrumentals. The musicians are better here than ever before. But, in keeping with the disappointments of the album, the players don't really experiment, which makes a few songs sound like cheesy '70s throwbacks.

Despite its shortcomings, The Fragile Army is a great, fun album that will hopefully put Flaming Lips comparisons to rest and show the world what an army of Texans in jumpsuits can do. B+ | Gabe Bullard

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