BEIRUT: THE RIP TIDE (2011)
1) A Candle's Fire; 2) Santa Fe; 3) East Harlem; 4) Goshen; 5) Payne's Bay; 6) The Rip Tide; 7) Vagabond; 8) The Peacock; 9) Port Of Call.
On Beirut's next offering, the electronics are mostly out, and it's a good sign. It shows that Condon is smart enough to distinguish between what works and what doesn't work, and does not insist on jamming what doesn't work in his music, just because it's, like, what all them cool kids are doing these days. Why tamper with a formula that is already qualified as post-post-modernist, as it takes all these European folk traditions, fuses them together Santa Fe-style, and then demands that the author declare genuine heartfelt romantic love towards this fusion?
Thus, the nice Gulag Orkestar-style sound is back, as if nothing ever happened since then: trombones, trumpets, accordions, ukuleles, etc. The problem is, nothing really happens on The Rip Tide, either. It is 9 songs and 33 minutes of niceness — to my ears, completely unmemorable and completely non-innovative compared to Gulag Orkestar. These lazy rhythms, these majestic brass riffs, these Balkans-oriented vocal modulations, this lyrical attitude, we've all received our communion already. Where are the hooks, goddammit?
By putting 'Santa Fe' out as the lead single, Zack probably thought that he was doing his native city a big favor, but, being well acquainted with the city myself, I cannot imagine it adopting the song as its municipal anthem any time soon. For some reason, it is the only song on the record that still suffers a bit from the electronic disease (a bubbly, poisonous synth pattern acts as its rhythmic base), and, for some other reason, the anthemic chorus "sign me up, Santa Fe, and call your son" is nonchalantly mumbled through the nose rather than belted at the top of the lungpower (which this guy actually possesses in spades).
The rest of the songs, despite being purer in sound and smarter in design, still fail to register. I do not really understand what it is: there is no sense in blaming Condon for sticking to the same old tried and true, especially since he obviously does this well, and tinkering with the formula may only blow things up. It's just that, somehow, the formula got stale really, really quick. Where the sound used to be intriguing because it was so novel, now that the novelty factor has worn off, it simply becomes annoying.
Sometimes, in fact, I wish that the damn brass people would just go away and leave Condon to sing his melodies a cappella. 'Vagabond', for instance, or the first couple of minutes of 'Port Of Call', when it's just Zack and his guitar. But then all these musicians disrupt our privacy — and for what? To set up this band-of-gypsies vibe which doesn't even compare to a real band of gypsies. Perhaps it's not really the lack of melodic hooks that I am complaining about, but simply the lack of fire in this music. I mean, there's no use in concealing the platitude that most people are attracted to Balkanian motives because of the reckless, crazy, all-out-wild atmosphere. The Rip Tide, in comparison, sounds stiff, cold, and artificial.
Or maybe it is the minimalist approach that irks me so much? A glowing review in Pitchfork put some emphasis on how the sound of Rip Tide is so stripped down, compared to how it used to be, and how there was «a newfound sense of restraint and stateliness on display here» — a phrase typical of how little care we reviewers actually pay to what we are writing. In this case, not only because the «sense of restraint» and «sense of stateliness» are two entirely different things, and should not be joined together the way they were, but also because, even if you try real hard, it is fairly tough to imagine a «statelier» album coming out of Zach Condon's head than Gulag Orkestar, so exactly how Rip Tide could boast a «newfound sense of stateliness» is way beyond me — unless, of course, the idea is that, earlier on, Condon had lost that sense somewhere on the road, and now, lo and behold, he's picked it up again. But shouldn't that be rendered with the word «recovered» rather than «newfound»?..
Well, never mind the linguistic games. Simply put, The Rip Tide, despite being so short, has managed to bore me so much that, at this point, I am not sure I'd ever be interested in hearing a Beirut record again. Then again, it's not as if Gulag Orkestar shook me to my foundations, either; if, to you, it did manage to be an eye-opening experience, I'm pretty sure you'll love The Rip Tide as much as the general critical world pretended to love it. Me, I'm free to just go along with a firm thumbs down, knowing that no harm will be caused — with the major critical success that The Rip Tide has won, there are few chances that Zack will be reverting to electronics any time soon, and that is really what matters.
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