Justin Vernon’s third Bon Iver album is a weird and wonderful thing
Feeling Strangely Fine
Minneapolis' Semisonic are not of this world. Theirs is one where Hall & Oates, Crowded House and FM radio rule supreme, and where Nirvana never revolutionised American music...
It has its advantages. For starters, we wouldn't have been subjected to all those third-rate grunge cash-ins and, as further compensation, you get melancholy songs like the REM-style lament 'Closing Time', or the fragile poignancy of 'Made To Last'. These are emotional songs that don't bother getting too overwrought, bathed in minor-key rock classicism.
It's also their major problem. Once you get past singer Dan Wilson's ill-founded (and Stateside-massaged) belief that he's a great poet - unlikely when he's prone to truisms like "every new beginning comes from another beginning's end", or filling a verse with berkish Star Trek references - you can't escape the fact that this doesn't possess nearly enough character of its own. And when it does move on from undemanding, but gently-pleasing tunes, it does so by descending into muso chin-stroking retro schtick.
Consequently, 'Secret Smile' has a sliding guitar line that smacks of Dire Straits, while 'Never You Mind' manages to incorporate the most infuriating aspects of Ben Folds Five with the cloying sentimentality of Elton John. It's not just that they're fond of the softest of soft rock and the most adult bits of AOR either, they're also dumb as a donkey, marking time with oompah cheese that sounds like the theme from Minder on 'All Worked Out'.
On an album that should reaffirm your faith in the power of old-fashioned songwriting, you're left underwhelmed. Making any vague recollection of pleasure at its brighter moments feels like a guilty secret.
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