It’s really hard to talk bad about the band Devotchka. If you’ve caught their live show you understand that you are no match for them. The charisma that bleeds forth from the stage is disarming. In a world where the main stages are largely inhabited by what might as well be animatronic characters in a Disney ride (I’m looking SQUARELY at you Kings of Leon), Devotchka…well they’re the real damn deal. Sure they may have some burlesque dancers (that’s where they got their start, backing burlesque shows), or they may even have a rope dancer, swinging precariously from the beams. Maybe this tour they’ll have FIRE BREAHTERS. It doesn’t really matter what ancillary thing they have going on onstage. It could all be dismissed as gimmicks if it weren’t for front man Nick Urata…who may be one of the best front men of any band to come around in the past decade. Everything that the band behind him is attempting to prove is channeled through him into some sort of super focused wave of awesome meant for your ear holes and when they find them there is nothing quite like yet. Yes, seeing Devotchka live is a generally thrilling musical experience and this band in the class of true working musicians that you just don’t see a lot of these days. They’re pros.
But we aren’t talking about their live show. We’re talking about “100 Lovers”.
As an album, it’s everything you would expect from the band. Soaring vocals, gypsy accordion interludes, and lush, LUSH string arrangements that threaten to take the songs into a land of schmaltz that no one can ever return from. It’s all there, and it all travels through territory that Devotchka has deftly navigated time and time again to produce a solid musical product….and that may be the problem.
I’ve heard this album before. It was BETTER before.
I suppose that for the casual Devotchka fan this will be just fine. It’s another set of music that is exactly what you would expect from this particular band. Personally though, I like growth. And except for the misused inclusion of a few electronic sounds and some drum machines (A trend that Iron and Wine’s “Kiss Each Other Clean” began this year . A trend that I hope to hell doesn’t bear out to be the “2011 sound” because it really truly sucks.) there isn’t any sign that Devotchka made any attempt to grow. In fact there are even signs, especially in the closing track “Sunshine”, that the band may have quite literally phoned it in. Listen to it that track and try to argue differently.
Now normally when put in this situation, the one where a band just defied all the hopes and expectations placed upon it by we the music going public and released what is arguably the worst record of their career I would just say “Fuck this record!”. Then I would sulk for a few weeks over the lost opportunity on display here. You could also place a safe bet that I’d make it a point to tell everyone I know how the band may have overstayed their welcome and that the tank, it would seem is dry or at least only holding on to vapors.
The reality of the situation is that love this band, so they get a pass this time. Sure, it makes me want to immediately reach for “How It Ends”. Sure if I think about it I’m sort of bummed that I’ll have to wait another few years for a “good” Devotchka album, but at the end of the day this is still for the most part, fantastically competent music. There’s nothing that grabs you like ANY track off of “Ends”(or any of their other albums for that matter), but let it float around on the speakers in the background for a while and you’ll still get some of the general sonic magic that Devotchka can produce. It’s certainly not their best, in fact it may be their worst, but the band itself is SO endearing and full of talent that it may not matter……this time.
Maybe it’s enough that they’re just really good at what they do and we can leave it at that.