Irony’s a tricky beast. Kevin Barnes has been flirting with it his whole career, though the two solidified their relationship on the second half of 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer, where Barnes debuted his subversive Georgie Fruit persona. Georgie Fruit represented the dark side of glam, the narcissistic extreme of the introspection that characterized Of Montreal’s brand of psychedelia. The two halves of the album stood in constant conflict, the free-spirited goodwill of the first clashing with the second’s rampant misogyny and erratic headspace. Hissing Fauna’s irony was clear, purposeful, and—crucially—successful. In the nine years and five albums since then, Of Montreal have been coasting along on that foundation of irony with sporadic variation. After all, Hissing Fauna was their best release, and everyone knew it. Why fix what ain’t broke?
But there’s the rub. Irony’s easy. Anyone can be ironic. It takes no cleverness to say something you don’t mean, no ingenuity to be self-contradictory. And yet I’m sure there’s someone at this very moment who’s listening to the ridiculous lyrics of “It’s Different For Girls” and silently relishing how they “get it” in a way no one else does. Look, everyone, he said women are “not numbed by oppression” three whole lines before he called them “aggressively objectified”! See that? See how he said something that implies a different mindset than the other thing he said? What deep lyricism! What great poetry! So great, in fact, that it warrants an entire four-minute song which bases every single line on that one idea! “For every one psycho bitch, there's ten thousand aggro pricks.” Fucking masterful.
So if it isn’t clear yet, I’m not a big fan of this one. And as inane as the lyrics can get, they’re not the only (or biggest) problem with this LP. Kevin Barnes said in a press release a couple months ago that he listened to modern pop music for inspiration while writing Innocence Reaches, and it shows—in all the wrong ways. “A Sport and a Pastime” is a halfway-written song that tries to mask that fact by using trite vocal manipulation tricks to fill out its runtime. “Let’s Relate” is a horribly produced, confused mess that attempts to incorporate a contemporary beat drop into its chorus, but it’s barely noticeable because of how muddled the overall mix is. (Barnes is weirdly flat throughout the song, too; with all the vocoding going on, you’d think they wouldn’t be averse to a bit of auto-tuning.) Even well-intentioned tracks like the slow, riff-based “Chaos Arpeggiating” feel like forced emulations of older, better songs of theirs (in that particular case, the lyrical themes of “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal” combined with a melody reminiscent of “Triumph of Disintegration”). The album’s long, too. This isn’t especially out of the ordinary for the band, but 57 minutes of these lyrics (you can practically hear Barnes ruffling the pages of his thesaurus when he throws out phrases like “the corybantic wilds of our furious and awful love”) without quality music to back it up? It’s not fun. And “not fun” is just about the harshest criticism I can level toward an Of Montreal album.
Kevin Barnes clearly still has musical chops; his voice is painfully subdued for most of the album, but he’s momentarily back in his unhinged element on “My Fair Lady”, the best track by a considerable margin. What sinks Innocence Reaches in the end, though, is its complete inability to present listeners with anything worth hearing. You can’t just say “let’s relate” and expect your record to suddenly resonate with people; you have to actually give them something relatable. Of Montreal did that quite competently on Lousy with Sylvianbriar a mere three years ago, which was (not coincidentally) their most unapologetically personal release to date. Here, in trying so desperately to be universal, they’ve ended up with their most stiflingly insular album yet. How ironic. C MINUS