Is Andrew Bird the future of music? Quite frankly... No. Some may reply to this that quality is more important than "being the next big thing", and I would agree with them, but the simple fact surrounding "Noble Beast", due to be released January 20th, is that it is painfully mundane and somewhat reticent; it would seem that Andrew Bird, no doubt an exceptionally skilled musician and multi-instrumentalist, has fallen into a comfortable rut of songwriting that is likely to placate his hard-core fan bases' need for another album brimming with shimmering folk rock, but unlikely to excite anybody who owns anything by Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes or Bob Dylan. Just about everyone, then...
I would like to make it clear at this point that I have a lot of respect for Andrew Bird, he is one of the most talented instrumentalists I have ever encountered, having been trained in the fastidious "Suzuki method" of music, and is able to hit, strum, pick and play an unbelievable plethora of instruments. Here's another useful fact: he went to Wesleyan University. Yes, the same one as Santogold, Boy Crisis, Amazing Baby and MGMT. All very interesting, but, ultimately, superfluous, for as you strain your way through placid album opener "Anonanimal" to the meandering nihilism ofÂ "Natural Disaster", most people, myself included, will find anything to keep going back for.
The album's biggest highlight is "Oh No", the most memorable song on the album, complete with a trademark Andrew Bird whistling intro and a pleasantly rhythmic verse and chorus. In fact, as Bird croons over the backdrop of a fuzzy guitar, you may find yourself suddenly optimistic for the remainder of the album. However, what follows barely progresses past the "pleasantness" that made "Oh No", the album highlight, but also left it languishing as a song that, honestly, you are unlikely to return to. What flow the album has is tragically dispersed by the utterly pointless "Oh Ho!" and "Ouo", both under two minutes long of the most eminently forgettable music this side of James Blunt.
Lyrically, Andrew Bird's delivery is stoically acceptable, but rarely exciting, and never mesmerising. The highlight (and, indeed, the only lyric that has easily committed itself to memory) comes on "Effigy" as Bird lazily attacks his guitar and declares that:
"It could be you,
It could be me,
Working the door,
Drinking for free"
Although it looks fairly unspectacular on screen, it is better when heard in context, and it is as close as "Noble Beast" comes to being catchy.
That said, those of a certain inclination are bound to enjoy another typical dose of Andrew Bird, and it certainly isn't a musical tragedy. However, it is fabulously disappointing that in a day and age where hundreds of artists are competing for your attention, Andrew Bird has refused to use his fascinating musical ability to create the zeitgeist of an album of which he is surely capable, instead acquiescing with a record that could quite easily have been released by any number of relatively unknown folk artists back in the 90s.
As far as I can see, "Noble Beast"'s greatest asset is that it's fantastic music to work to. It's regrettably unlikely to distract you.
Phil Gwyn is a guest-blogger here at PMA. Read his other thoughts on music at Not Many Experts