Youth and energy has its' definite place in music. Young, gun slinging musicians exuding careless confidence and shit pots of stamina for their booze infused, sexually motivated lifestyles will always be a necessary cog to keep the spirit and vigor of rock and roll cranking along. But as fun as goofing off at the kid's table with these punks can be, breaking a bit of bread with some honest to god adults is often beneficial behavior as well. It's there, after all, where life's more profound themes are discussed at length. It's there where people try and define what their lives are, or what they should be. It's there where "soul food" is generally the cuisine of choice.
It's also there where listeners get the chance to pull up a chair with Andrew Bird on his latest release, Noble Beasts. At 35, Bird's latest finds the virtuosic musician juggling head aching, human complexities under the cover of cool and carefree sonic qualities. Liquid production techniques, elaborate instrumentation, and solid songwriting all mark this record from beginning to end. With plucky fits of pizzicato, gorgeous glissandos on the violin, whimsical vocal deliveries, and, of course, Bird's celestial capacity to whistle, Noble Beasts brings with it an awfully Zen like quality. And the emergence of Bird's most profound percussive backbone to date (thank you Martin Dosh?) on tracks like "Not a Robot, But Ghost" and "Anonanimal" further extend the introspective experience. Headphones recommended...
But more than anything else, it is the lyrical observations that pop out of Noble Beasts's mix. On a shuffling piece of sprightly exotica called "Masterswarm", Professor Bird tackles the insect world. It is metaphor of course; the song pointing towards our man's possible internal debate on human reproduction. Pair that with the lost and lonely themes of "Effigy", and listener's might find themselves jumping to sad conclusions regarding Bird's well being. Personally, this reviewer hears a man who craves a family, but lacks the necessities (i.e. a mate) to make that happen at the moment. I could be wrong. But sweet and supple acoustic strummer "Souverian" further supplements that story. Singing "Birds will sing/Still my lover won't return to me/You promise Spring/Still my lover won't return to me", one gets the sense there's the taste of a recent lost love on Bird's lips.
Yes, these lovelorn themes might seem sort of typical at first listen. Surely any 23-year-old yahoo can pen soliloquies of this nature. But the big difference offered here lies in the possibility that Bird has lived just long enough to know the escape routes from the heart that (possibly) threatens to destroy him. Later in "Souverian", Bird dreams up a chorus worth believing in ("if you join our chorus you'll never have to fear anymore"). On "Not a Robot, But Ghost", Bird plays the part of a hacker, cracking codes to his personal complications...and most assuredly finding solutions on the other side. If there is some kind of existential crisis at work here, then Bird is obviously well equipped to deal with it.
Perhaps most interesting of all, Bird also comes to terms with the very reason we all know him to begin with. Coupling trademark word play with accented lyrical beat ("I see a sea anemone/The Enermy/See a sea anemone/And that'll be the end of me"), Bird predicts on "Anonanimal", "I will become this animal/Perfectly adapted to the music halls/I will become this animal/Anomalous appendages/A non-animal". Given the fact he's been flirting with a more mainstream form of success these last few years (and this album may very well put him over the top), the song serves as Bird's own cautionary tale of the perils of success. I bet he plays this one every night.
All in all, Bird's latest makes me wonder just how good the last few years have actually been to the seemingly satisfied musician. Making one's way through every day life can be an awfully complex journey. But under any of the pressure, sadness, or self-doubt that comes with his life, Bird presents himself by constructing an image of absolute grace. Looks like Andrew Bird is quite the Noble Beasts after all. - David Pitz