Album Review: Okkervil River – The Stand Ins (II)

Jason reviewed this one already.  Here’s my take.

Okkervil River is nothing if not prolific.  Unlike (sad to say) Ryan Adams, their prolificacy has not terribly hurt the quality of their output.  Don’t get me wrong–a good editor might be able to bring about a five star album rather than a long series of three-and-a-half star albums, but three-and-a-half star albums are still good albums, and it is nice not to have to wait two or three years for new material when you’re a fan.  Yeah, it’s a trade-off, and I do hope they hunker down and make a masterpiece some day, even if I have to wait for it.  But Okkervil River album release day is still a good day.

So what we have here is another Okkervil River album.  Solid, but you won’t be telling your friends, “Dude, you have to buy this NOW!”

Jason called this album out for cynicism.  I don’t share his objections to “Pop Lie,” which sounds to me to be about a girl who was hurt by some jerk who pretended he liked something that he didn’t in order to get in her pants rather than an unnecessary piece of nastiness.  (I picture the singer, the “liar who lied in his pop song” as Rod Stewart, who went from the unbelievable brilliance of Every Picture Tells a Story to Blondes Have More Fun and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” in seven short years.)

However, I concur with Jason’s thoughts on “Singer Songwriter.”  Why are we supposed to hate the guy the song is about?  Because he was born into more fortunate circumstances than the rest of us?  Will Sheff just sounds like an asshole here, which is a shame because better lyrics would have made it an album highlight.  I get the feeling I’d rather hang out with the guy he wrote the song about than Will Sheff.

But this bad moment isn’t enough to sink the album, and the almost-opener, “Lost Coastlines,” and the closer, “Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979” are enough to make it worth a listen.  The soaring “Blue Tulip” is another highlight. If you’re interested in Okkervil River but don’t own any of their albums, this is not the place to start.  If you’re already a fan, pick it up.

The Stand Ins was originally supposed to be the second half of a double album, the first half being last year’s The Stage Names.  Listening to it that way does add some heft to both albums.  However, it also makes clear that they would have been better off trimming it to a long single album and rearranging the track order a bit.

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