Release Date 07/02/2011 (Because Music)
Review by Joss Worthington
Pete Yorn’s self titled 6th studio album is the result of an impromptu 5 day recording session with Pixies frontman and indie rock legend Frank Black.
Recorded in a makeshift studio over the summer of 2008 whilst the prolific songsmith was in the middle of making his 4th LP Back & Fourth, this record perhaps demonstrates an attempt by Yorn to ditch his usual perfect pop production sensibilities in favor of capturing his songs in their rawest state. And who better to have at the helm than the man who gave us Surfer Rosa?
The record starts well; “Precious Stone’ bears all the hall marks of the lazy alt-country pop stylings of his much celebrated debut LP Musicforthemorningafter. It certainly has the same instant catchiness and Yorn’s trademark lazy drawl remains intact.
‘Rock Crowd’ finds the singer wryly musing about the love he feels from his own audience, “Rock crowd throw your arms around me, I feel glad when you all surround me. It’s you, it’s you who grounds me.” Perhaps it’s the unconditional love from the masses that Yorn prefers to the more complicated affairs of his own love life, a recurring theme in the majority of his songs.
‘Paradise Cove’ (originally featured on Back & Forth) is reworked here into an angsty grunge rock anthem. You have to feel for the poor girl who Yorn spits his chisel cheeked venom at, “When you talk it makes me cringe, you want so bad to have meaning but you’re empty and draining.” She was probably too lost in the hazy pedestrian pop vibe of the original to even notice what he was on about.
‘Badman’ and ‘The Chase’ are continuations of the route one power pop chord thrash that is by now starting to lose its charm. You start to feel like the A-list material got pushed to the start of the record and received the most attention to detail.
It’s here where I find myself questioning who the real Pete Yorn is. Half the time he’s the perfect pop songsmith – albeit one that flirts precariously with being the spokesman for the OC generation. The rest of the time he sounds like a basic bar rock brawler. I’m not sure that I’m into either scenario entirely, but a compromise in the middle might be cool.
Maybe that’s what Frank Black thought too, but in terms of production values there is not much to separate Pete Yorn from his previous output. It’s not like Black has recreated the bombastic and brash energy of Surfer Rosa here. I guess he’d probably need Steve Albini’s help to do that. Where the songs suffer (particularly in the latter half of the record) is in their lack of more complex arrangements to complement the driving energy. The time constraints of the recording session may have played a large part in this.
Ironically, it’s in the final song, a cover of Gram Parson’s ‘Wheels’ where Yorn and Black seem to get it right. A somewhat mellow departure from the rest of the album, the song is stripped backed to the bare essentials of voice, guitar and double bass, the 50s style reverb allowing Yorn’s voice to hang on every note perfectly and capturing effortlessly his true ability.
Maybe when Pete met Frank he felt the need to rock out? He is the uber dark lord of indie rock after all, but paradoxically Black’s more recent solo efforts have been more mellow affairs as he seeks to shake off the shackles of his past – records that have been largely ignored by the greater public and evidently by Yorn also.