The Bad Plus: Prog

For their fifth album, The Bad Plus brings us a pretty big letdown. Aside from “Physical Cities,” you could listen to this CD in the background, or pretty much even the foreground, and never really know it happened.  You’d probably perk up a little bit due to recognition of Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s In Love With You” or Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” but where their last two albums provided plenty of powerful rock, there is little to be found here.

One of the most amazing things about The Bad Plus is that they can get crazy avant garde on you, but always didactically, by which I mean that they’re always guiding you up to and sometimes even through their freest, craziest parts. In the span of a song, the band is skilled at hooking you in with the familiar and/or accessible, holding your hand through a compelling thematic development, and then kicking off an explosive party in your brain of nutso experimentation before ushering you back down again.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with this disc. It’s pretty much all either boring muzak delivered straight without a hint of irony, or it’s gonzo, off-the-rails, atonal blathering with no hinge or bridge between the two. Some of this has to do with their source material. Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” is inherently a cool, laid-back sort of thing, and I don’t really find the original of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” all that compelling, but the former could have been tweaked more and the latter almost assuredly should have been modified far less.

– “Physical Cities,” “Mint,” “Giant,” “Thriftstore Jewelry,” “Tom Sawyer,” “The World Is The Same”
– “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” “Life On Mars?,” “This Guy’s In Love With You,” “1980 World Champion”
Filed Between: Suspicious Activity? and For All I Care
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Everybody Wants To Rule The World – Tears For Fears. The piano solo midsong is nice. Not quite enough to save it from being broken.
  2. Physical Cities – Pretty good. Ends with a long, arhythmic (as far as I can tell) repeat of a single note synchronized perfectly across all three players. Amazingly the band pulls it off, though My Baby finds it annoying.
  3. Life On Mars? – Seriously guys, does every third track of yours have to start with an inscrutable bass solo? A David Bowie cover.
  4. Mint – I think I’m digging on this. Seems to be in the mold of Iverson’s “Let Our Garden Grow” from Suspicious Activity? where he lays out a plinky piano theme that retuns too frequently amid bursty playing and rests from the rest of the trio. But this one is better since it doesn’t the theme isn’t mind-achingly annoying.
  5. Giant – Pretty good, nice head, but very quiet and slow. You might not notice it’s there. Maybe the best track on the disc, but def doesn’t need to be as long as it is (8:46).
  6. Thriftstore Jewelry – A very nice tune here. Modest and quiet, still, but on an album of overreaches and underachieves, this one is very nice.
  7. Tom Sawyer – Hard to believe that during the guit solo part the piano isn’t double-tracked. I’m not sure this song translates to the jazz trio. Kind of thought that since it’s so much worse than the original that it might get a broken heart, but in the end it had enough good moments that it stays open.
  8. This Guy’s In Love With You – I don’t think the Burt Bacharach version (or Faith No More version) is all that compelling. They play this one pretty straight. I’m breaking it, which means I have three of the four covers as broken. Bad moves this time, guys.
  9. The World Is The Same – Gets cool, but takes a long time to get there. A really long time.
  10. 1980 World Champion – Part of a trilogy, I suppose, with “1972 Bronze Medalist” and “1979 Semi-Finalist.” Nine tracks of languid then they get manic for the last track. I’m just not in the mood for it at this point. You’ve spent this long trying to get me to lay down and be quiet and now you’re jumping up to run around and scream. Get your bipolar ass out of here. Plus it’s just bad in a jittery/annoying kind of way. This is that guy at the high school reunion who was more into you than you were to him back in the day and now it’s even worse.

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