It seems that any review of the latest Mountain Goats album, Get Lonely, requires at least one personal anecdote.
Just look at Pitchfork. In a few sentences, we’ve already discovered the writer’s marital status – engaged! How sweet. Or consider Toronto’s Chromewaves, who proclaims that singer John Darnielle (at left) “is somehow plugged into the collective unconcious of humanity, or maybe just mine.”
Not that this personal response to Get Lonely is neccessarily a bad thing. We all connect with music; the issue, though, is whether an album can be judged independently of the intended audience (in this case, someone who got broken up with by a long-time, head-over-heels-in-love partner, and who is really, really, super-sad about it). Right before giving the album a 7.6, better than the site gave the Goats’ last album, The Sunset Tree, Pitchfork’s Tom Breihan admits that, “I’m not sure I get this record. I sort of hope I never do.” And therein lies the problem.
The Sunset Tree revolves around Darnielle’s experiences being abused as a child by his step-father. The music is frightening, beautiful, and catchy, and the lyrics are really, really good (take “This Year:” “I drove home in the California dusk/I could feel the alcohol inside of me hum/Pictured the look on my stepfather’s face/Ready for the bad things to come”). You don’t need to have been abused to fall in love with (or “get”) The Sunset Tree; the music and lyrics are appealing for reasons beyond familiarity – just like how you didn’t have kill the Kennedys to like “Sympathy for the Devil,” or do heroin to like “Lust for Life.” Not so with Get Lonely, which doesn’t even win the non-depressed listener over enough to fulfil it’s title’s promise: getting them lonely. So what’s left, then, is an album that, for the most part, can only echo sadness, not bring it out or add depth to it, and claims that the Goats’ latest is some kind of midwife of universal truth ring false as a result.
As for the music, this is Darnielle – an absolutely brilliant songwriter and lyricist – at his most boring. The songs are too long and too unchanging, and are only interesting for, at most, about a minute each. The lyrics are still stellar throughout (you can’t help but think that this album would be better as a collection of poems), there are one or two terrific tracks (“Woke Up New” and the atypically upbeat “If You See Light”), and a few terrific moments (the chorus of “Woke Up New,” where Darnielle struggles to sing the high notes of “And I sang oh, what do I do, what do I do, what do I do? What do I do without you?” and still makes it sound pretty). But this is not the same Mountain Goats that fans fell in love with, or the same Darnielle who turned lyrics like “I am drowning/There is no sign of land/You are coming down with me, hand in unlovable hand/And I hope you die/I hope we both die” into a singalong on Tallahassee‘s “No Children.” Instead, we’ve been given a Mountain Goats album for the Coldplay and Keane generation, an album to put on when you’re depressed and bored, and forget about when you’re happy again – not an album that stays with you.
Or maybe I just don’t “get it.”
Oh well. Maybe next album.
The Mountain Goats play Lee’s Palace on Tuesday, September 19th; look for a show review after. Get Lonely (and The Sunset Tree) are both available in stores now. Image from 4AD.