When you listen to Andrew Bird, your mind cycles through images of fields, mountains and streams, all pleasant and benign. Not much has changed with the listening experience of Andrew Bird's latest album, Things are Really Great Here, Sort of...
, a collection of covers of one of the few bands that is just as prolific as Andrew Bird is, The Handsome Family. The album contains some songs that a lot of listeners might find familiar: "Far from Any Road (Be My Hand)," the theme song for HBO's True Detective
and "Don't Be Scared," which Bird previously recorded for Weather Systems
back in 2003. Like most of the album, and unlike some of Bird's previous releases, his voice is the core of the songs, and although the instrumentation is as intricate as ever, it somehow falls to the background.
Bird did what you might expect with these covers — he got rid of The Handsome Family's electric guitars and heavy drumbeats and replaced them with an almost timidly used drum kit, acoustic guitar, and his violin. And even though he did not record original material with this album, Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family is no schmuck when it comes to writing vivid and powerful lyrics, so the quality of storytelling in this album has not decreased, but changed. Bird cannot completely escape The Handsome Family's footprint when creating covers of their music, so what sets this album apart from his others is its overwhelmingly dark lyrics.
Because he has selected songs from several of The Handsome Family's albums, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of...
does not have a clear, single subject, but that does not mean that the album is devoid of meaning. Sprinkling in songs of heartbreak, fear, and death, Bird steers you across a range of emotions, with his violin plucking and soulful voice acting as your guide. In "So Much Wine, Merry Christmas," a song that sounds like it's going to be about drunken holiday revelry, Bird sings, "There's only so much wine/You can drink in one life/But it will never be enough/To save you from the bottom of your glass," a rather dark message about how you can't completely escape problems in your life. Despite the darkness of the song, you don't come away feeling like you need to drown your own sorrows in a bottle of wine because the upbeat instrumentals and singing keeps you from contemplating the lyrics too thoroughly, a trend that occurs throughout the album.
The album's title therefore seems very fitting — everything appears bright and cheerful, but once you delve deeper, this is only partially true. So you are welcome to soak up the lyrics of the song, and to revel in the sadness of the haunting stories. Or you could listen to the music and the voice behind the lyrics, without actually absorbing the words. Maybe make yourself some tea and nuzzle up on your couch or out by a tree and pretend the meanings of the songs are as pleasant as the instrumentation leads you to believe, because it's summer, and you have the right to escape from the dark and depressing.
You can purchase the album now on itunes
, and listen to the song "Tin Foiled" below.