Why has the notion of the ‘odd couple’ always been so intriguing? People are always banging on about the way ‘opposites attract’ and all that, so why are we so stunned when those opposites get together and show us how good things can be? I mean, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney seemed to be on two very different musical missions and yet managed to collaborate in style and made plenty of likeable (the world was a strange place in the 80s) music together.
Perhaps in Broken Bells’ case, it has something to do with Brian Burton’s (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) ability to identify merit in any kind of music and his ability to morph and adapt his ear to it? The man appears daunted by no musical genre (although he’s yet to produce an opera) – having mashed Jay Z’s The Black Album up with The Beatles The White Album (resulting in The Grey Album), produced albums for Beck and Gorillas as well as having been one half of Gnarls Barkley.
Burton has now created another power duo with James Mercer, lead singer of The Shins, and the result is immediately likeable. At first, I wasn’t sure why I liked what I was hearing but it helps that the first track on the album was also their first release, ‘The High Road’, with its Shins-like sing-song melody. Later songs ‘Vaporise’ and ‘Mongrel Heart’ use trumpet solos and riffs among synthetic drum beats, and while the disconnectedness of ‘Your Head Is On Fire’ doesn’t work, it’s perfect during ‘Sailing to Nowhere’ as the orchestral interlude casually rolls in.
What was startling (I was more than surprised) about this album was ‘The Ghost Inside’. It sounds like a disco track (Mercer sings in a range somewhere between Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees and John Travolta in Grease) and I’m instantly repulsed, only to find myself, four or five listens later, tapping my foot to the intro beats and humming along without knowing the lyrics half way through it! Yep, just like your mum would.
Ultimately this is a ‘nice’ album that everyone will like in the way that everybody liked Moby’s Play. It’s a nice blend of synth and acoustic guitar, drum machines and strings, noise and choirs. It’s impossible to know whether it’s Burton working his musical magic once again or a true fusion of both musicians tastes. We may have to wait for the sequel to find out.