Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Review of Owl City: All Things Bright and Beautiful

Owl City’s new album dropped today. If you don’t know, Adam Young’s first album, Ocean Eyes, was met with rave reviews, flattering comparisons to the Postal Service, and overall passionate affections from the tween/teen crowd. His much anticipated sophomore effort, All Things Bright and Beautiful, is sure to be met with gleeful squeals from the target audience, no matter the quality of the music. For the rest of us (or the brain using members of said tween/teen listeners) sophomore albums are met with a due amount of caution after breathtakingly successful debuts. (Yes, The Strokes, I’m looking at you)

ATBAB isn’t a homerun like the first album was, but it isn’t a strikeout either, by any stretch of the imagination. At worst it’s a slide into second, which is probably pretty good considering everything that sophomore albums have stacked against them. (More on that in a bit) Still, for the hard working consumer, the whole album may not be worth your money.

Disclaimer: If you are a fan of an artist, their music, or their message, you should buy their albums. Contracts are always changing, but I can guarantee you, in the current music industry, artists that sell albums last a lot longer than artists that don’t.

So, if you’re the casual music consumer, which tracks are worth the money you’ll spend on them?

Well, for starters, the three best tracks have already been released as singles, and they’re destined to be Owl City staples.”Alligator Sky,” “Galaxies,” and “Deer in the Headlights” are all winners, which is, of course, why they were shot out first.

To that list, I will add two more tracks, “Angels” and “Plant Life,” the latter co-written with Matt Thiessen of Relient K. “Angels” harkens to some All American Reject sounds, which is very nice, since Adam has the perfect voice for it. “Plant Life” is just a well written, well performed song. It seems to push into some new areas for Adam, musically, that I hope he’ll pursue more down the line.

Why is it so hard for sophomore albums to knock it out of the park after the debut was such a slugger? Well, here’s my thoughts on it (and baseball metaphors shall be given a gag order):

1. Expectations. When a debut album is stellar, instant classic, or whatever other cliché you want to throw at it, it builds up anticipation for another stellar, instant classic, cliché worthy album. Problem is, the formula that created the first album is rarely there for the second. You don’t have the freedom debut artists tend to have to experiment with their sound, you don’t have the blank slate to work with, and you don’t have the element of surprise anymore. But the biggest problem is…

2. Time. Debut albums are usually the result of years of preparation. Songwriting since childhood, practicing before small venues, trying out songs, tossing out songs, and perfecting your sound. Artists will tell you, you play covers a lot as an early artist because you don’t have enough material to do a whole concert. It takes months to get one song to perfection, and even then, it may not be a crowd pleaser. But, once that big hitting (oops, sorry) wildly successful album comes out, you may only have a year to put together ten or more tracks. The chance of being as creative and as innovative with that kind of constraint is very low, in my opinion, and illustrates the greatest weakness in the “album” mindset of the Record Industry.

Give your artists the freedom to create however many tracks they feel inspired for, in whatever time frame they need, and you’ll see better music and more sales. You won’t have a 12 track album like All Things Bright and Beautiful with five purchasable tracks, and seven filler tracks. Beautiful, pleasant filler tracks, but filler tracks nonetheless.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this!