Horses return to form with a more rugged, less sonically sounding sixth.
During the lyrics to ‘Crutch‘, the first single from the new Band of Horses album, ‘Things Are Great’, Ben Bridwell sings initially about a time, “When I New All the Answers”, only to admit later in the song, “I Forgot Where I was”, and in doing so, helps to lay bare what lies at the very core of this tentative return to form. An admission that he’d lost sight of that which had originally given the band it’s identity, trying to cover up what he became to believe were weaknesses, only to smother the flame that had burned so brightly back at the time of the release of their debut album ‘Everything All the Time’, and it’s follow up ‘Cease to Begin’.
Part of this realisation may have brought about the change in the production chair, albeit late in the day. As with their previous album, ‘Why Are You OK’, released in 2016, these duties were originally handed to Jason Lytle, and only after its completion did Bridwell decide to rework the album, bringing in producer Wolfgang Zimmerman for support. This intervention would appear to have helped the overall sound, reducing some of the lush pop and country vibes of its predecessor, with a less fussy, more rugged, raw urgency, reminiscent of some of their earlier work.
It has to be said though, that what really marks this album out as a return to form, is the overall improvement of the material. Bridwell’s writing here has a more reflective tone, opening up to past mistakes, sharing a vulnerability that had not been so obvious on previous albums, giving his lyrics a greater depth and strength. Songs like the aforementioned ‘Crutch’, the album opener ‘Warning Signs’, and ‘In Need of Repair‘, highlight a greater maturity, honesty, and wisdom from an artist now into his fourth decade. However, there are still moments such as with the track, ‘You Are Nice To Me‘, where the overall sound drifts to a more poppier sonic void, while the lyrics become more lazy, lacking any great focus.
Band of Horses are, and always have been, a vehicle for Bridwell’s artistic vision, employing an ever increasing number of musical collaborators to help in that quest. On this most recent album, Creighton Barrett remains on the drum stool as he has done since 2006, whilst Matt Gentling on bass and Ian MacDougall on guitar are re-employed, only for MacDougall to depart immediately after the albums completion. It may be that this ever revolving door of musicians will be the achilles heal that will prevent Band of Horses from truly realising the potential of those first two albums, but for the moment ‘Things are Great‘, is certainly a step back in the right direction.
Things might not be great, but for Band of Horses they’re definitely a whole lot better than they were.