Six months ago I was drowning in the mosh-pit wake that was Alexisonfire’s farewell tour. Bitter fans of the post-hardcore rockers will point the finger at vocalist/guitarist Dallas Green’s side project City and Colour as the main reason for the band’s demise. However, I am of the belief that great music comes only with hard work and great attention to detail and so, I took solace hoping that that with reinvigorated focus, City and Colour would finally achieve the promise Bring Me Your Love proposed.
I saw Green tour his sophomore release on two separate occasions and was thrilled by the prospects of a weighty, folk-rock identity for the (“newly formed”) Canadian quartet. Songs like “Sleeping Sickness” and “As Much As I Ever Could” are gemstones on his resume, indicative of a great song writer composing at the best of his ability. While Dallas’ melancholic crooning will always be front and centre in the emotionally charged style City and Colour wields, the pounding drum rhythms in songs like “Sleeping Sickness” brought significant weight and drive to the songs, producing a more complete emotional experience—“Sleeping Sickness”, a crowd favourite, throws listeners into the pit of anxiety with its anxious, thumping heartbeat rhythm. Little Hell tracks “Oh, Sister” and “Silver and Gold” were also debuted on that tour, suggesting an exciting departure for Dallas and shimmering prospects for his band’s future, but Little Hell was a misstep, or at least sideways movement, failing to build upon the foundation set by his second album, Bring Me Your Love.
This, however, is not a review of Bring Me Your Love, and his new album, The Hurry and the Harm is not a realization of potential that Little Hell failed to achieve. Green’s newest effort seems confused about what it wants to be. His lyrics yearn to recreate his earlier success, imitating previous songs, while failing to capture the poignant simplicity his songs were so famous for. Lyrics from the newest offering confuse simplicity with cliché and while new instruments search for a richer, fuller sound, the instruments don’t seem to be played with any care or inspiration, leaving the songs empty and insincere. The drums are simple without feeling purposefully so, and the beefed up strings section obscures the voice that made the band famous.
You may be familiar with “Thirst”, the first single from the album. The issue with Green’s latest offering–and indeed 2011’s Little Hell–is that the singles stand out too much from the rest of the album. When I first listened to Little Hell, it was devastatingly obvious that “Weightless” would be the next single (following Fragile Bird), and probably the only other single to come from that album. Likewise, “Thirst” is one of only a handful of songs from The Hurry and the Harm I was content listening to in its entirety. The remaining tracks only made me anxious for the precious minutes being evaporated.
We should talk about what works so that this review doesn’t seem unfairly one-sided. “Thirst”, “Two Coins”, and “Ladies and Gentleman” are listenable, even good songs; “Commentators” isn’t bad either. These songs exemplify the sound that City and Colour has been striving for over the last 3-5 years. Green’s lyricism is at its best here, with simple, powerful, and cohesive metaphoric patterns running through each song. Thirst, as an exception, is less powerful lyrically, but does provide a great blend of blues, folk and rock that complements Green’s singing. Probably the most noticeable and enjoyable feature of these songs, and why “Thirst” works so well with the new sound is that Green sings mostly in his natural octave range. The rest of the album’s lyrics are filtered through his hopelessly faint falsetto often lost in cymbal-crashes and wailing guitar solos.
One of the main problems with the album, present equally in song writing and in instrumentals, is that it’s unsure how much to look forward and how much to look back. For one thing, Green can’t seem to fully yield his City and Colour moniker to a backing band. At least half of the songs on the album feature a fading outro, often comprising up to a third of the track itself, where only Dallas and his guitar are left. Ironically, these outros seem to outshine the music that precedes them. The emotional intensity that City and Colour fans have become accustomed reappears. I believed, if for a moment, that Green really did feel as helpless as his lyrics would have me believe, even if the frailty of his metaphors suggests he’s grasping at straws.
The song writing, while Green wishes it to be the focus, is careless, weak, and ineffectual. It seems perhaps, that Dallas’ life isn’t providing the same emotional impetus that he’s used to, so he tries to fake it, producing such thoughtful and inspiring analogies as “life is…harder than stone”. “Harder than Stone” as a track seems set on breaking the AT40, filled cheesy metaphors that Beliebers would weep over for their profundity. For those listeners who expect the heartbreaking simplicity of songs like “Sam Malone” and “Sometimes” expect to be underwhelmed by the insincerity of The Hurry and the Harm. The album’s very first line signals a departure from the humble, melancholic introspection Green revels in, to something more grandiose: “Everyone wants everything”, and later “Why are we so worried/ more about the hurry/ and less about the harm”. The subtlety (or lack thereof) hardly needs to be commented on, but applying this sort of gravitas to your writing necessitates more grave consequences should you fail to offer any meaningful insight–and Green’s writing pales in comparison to the topics he’s chosen to cover. Nearly every song is a cliché: “I don’t know what drugs to take/…to alter the state/ that my mind has been in” he croons in “Of Space and Time”. Later he laments “The lonely life of the writer” with classic whiskey breath and a box-fort chateau to boot.
“The Lonely Life” is an excellent reminder to listeners that Green’s been here before, and done it much better in the past. “The Lonely Life” is constructed in a “what if” format, drawing cadence from the track “Sometimes”; “The Golden State” reminds us how good “Coming Home” was and “Death’s Song” is one harmonica short of “Body in a Box”, one of the standout tracks from Bring Me Your Love. Green’s writing clings to his past successes, but lacks the emotional validity the songs once had. Coupled with lackluster instrumentals, The Hurry and the Harm is nothing but pop-rock fluff.
In what would seem a veiled and half-hearted attempt to defend the album, Green says in “Commentators” that he’s “not trying to be revolutionary” and certainly, this album is not. Green’s weakest LP offers nothing memorable: his song-writing is composed of cheap metaphors and lazy versification; his old melancholy seems permanently lost and his attempts to reclaim the success of his first two albums results in mimicry. If Dallas’s focus on City and Colour left you with high hopes for a folk-rock outfit with some teeth, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
5 broken strings out of 10
Music Tip for the Disappointed:
If you’re hankering for a folk-singer turned blues-rocker with the more grit you’ll want to check out Grownass Man by The Shouting Matches, the new project featuring Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon at the helm.