Be prepared to follow the whistles and howls of “Noble Beast,” multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird’s latest release. This album marks his fourth solo entry; the style is classical in practice, yet beautifully original on so many levels. While the album is intricate with glimpses of genius, there’s much to suggest that it’s more satisfactory than groundbreaking.
A diverse array of organic sounds and classical instruments, from whistles to the violin, fills the album. All of these elements are used to varying degrees of mastery. Bird is a student of music first and foremost, not an entertainer. While this is not a bad thing, it shows in his eclectic style of music. This level of calculation, while musically precise, at times lacks raw emotion that can be brought about from uncalculated mistakes.
Prominent on this album are Bird’s lyrics, which at times border on free word association with little rhyme or reason. Behind all of the musical treatments, there is a thread of thoughtful and intriguing lyrics that runs throughout “Beast.” Between looking for all the homeless sociopaths and having fake conversations on non-existent telephones, there is much for the mind to ponder. These devices are strictly literary, and while pleasant, most lyrics carry an abstract nature that fails to translate into human emotion at times. While he may not be singing about the love that got away (at least not explicitly), there is still a lush and mystical nature to both the lyrics and music.
While most tracks carry the standard structure of pop and folk songs, “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” is an exception to this rule. It’s mostly multilayered and frenetic, at times breaking into a vocal range comparable to that of Thom Yorke. Howls and whimpers aside, there are still other comparisons to be made between “Noble Beast” and Radiohead early in their career. However, to make such a comparison between any band and Radiohead is both flattering and embarrassing, as few contemporaries can measure up to their work. Some of Bird’s most commendable work comes on the track “Anonanimal,” which presents a delightfully rhythmic solo of a unique character.
When categorizing Bird’s latest, it’s hard to call it a challenging listen, yet it does carry a level of freshness. From his smooth voice to his virtuosity at a myriad of instruments, there is no denying that Bird has created pure musical candy. It’s sweet and thoughtful, and maybe too much of it is a bad thing. Taken as a whole album, “Beast” unsettles the belly, but if taken in moderation, like Tootsie Rolls, Bird’s latest proves to satisfy.