Andrew Bird certainly got people talking with his latest album, Noble Beast (Fat Possum). Back in January Miles Raymer criticized him in Sharp Darts for making fussy, overcalculated music that lacked heart and cited his embrace by NPR and the New York Times as evidence of his middlebrow blandness (though if you ask me, trying to establish guilt by association with those institutions is a bit of a stretch). This was like blood in the water for Bird’s fans, and the back-and-forth in the online comments got pretty overheated–especially over the title of the column, “Pop White People Like.”
Brent DiCrescenzo takes an amusing but less inflammatory dig at Bird with a piece in this week’s Time Out Chicago: it’s set up as a guide to the 25-cent words the singer sprinkles into his lyrics, and pokes fun at his studied verbosity and self-conscious cleverness.
DiCrescenzo writes, “The whistlin’ songsmith has a vocabulary that would’ve made William F. Buckley Jr. blush,” but I think that’s giving Bird too much credit. I’ve talked with him many times over the years, and his vocabulary in conversation is pretty ordinary. I suspect he comes across words and phrases like “anthurium lacrimae” and “dermestid” while he’s reading and, like anybody else curious about language, looks them up and makes note of them. Though he crams them uncomfortably into his tunes, devising contexts that often only barely work, their primary use seems to be for their sound, not their sense.
His words have never connected with me like his melodies, and that’s the case with the new album as well. Noble Beast contains some of his most accomplished, gorgeous, and memorable tunes, like the breezy opener, “Oh No” (which Raymer singled out for the emotional detachment of its lyrics), and the episodic “Masterswarm.” But bunch of songs in the middle of the album are fairly generic Bird–though they’re pretty and well-made, I’ve had trouble recalling them.
It’s worth pointing out that none of the criticism Bird has attracted seems to be hurting his prospects at all. Tonight he kicks off a two-night stand at the Civic Opera House, and it’s entirely sold out.
Cuong Vu, Vu-Tet (ArtistShare)
Culture Musical Club, Shime! (World Village)
T2, It’ll All Work Out in Boomland (Acme Gramophone/Lion Productions)
Enders, Dome (Intuition)
Johnny Alf, Olhos Negros (Sony/BMG, Brazil)