Album: The Polyphonic Spree

Together We're Heavy, GOOD
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The Independent Culture

This brings into sharp focus the question of how many Polyphonic Spree albums one needs in one's life - for like a lot of novelty acts, a little of the Spree goes a long, long way.

If you agree that one album is more than enough of the Spree's labour-intensive glee-club, then I suppose it might as well be Together We're Heavy - a more fully rounded realisation of Tim DeLaughter's grandiose musical vision than their 2003 debut The Beginning Stages of.... Continuing on from that album, these 10 tracks are presented as "Sections 11-20" opening with a harp glissando and guitar fanfare before getting into its stride with "We Sound Amazed". Over chugging orchestral pomp, DeLaughter sings with the vulnerability of a Wayne Coyne or Jonathan Donahue about finding a way "to your new religion" - a suitably cultish objective for this "brotherhood manqué", and delivered with born-again gusto. But everything the song needs to convey has been thoroughly dealt with in the first five minutes, after which the piece is pointlessly extended with a further three minutes of keening horns swelling and subsiding and swelling up again. It's as if, having enthusiastically over-egged his pudding to begin with, DeLaughter decides to lob in another dozen free-range at the last moment, just for good measure.

This format is repeated in track after track, to greater or lesser effect. Some, like the catchy "Hold Me Now" have a convoluted pop charm all their own; others, like "Diamonds" and "Mild Devotion To Majesty", are comparatively amorphous and fairly dull. But almost every track is treated as a fresh epiphany, picked out in "Penny Lane" cor anglais and trumpet, or draped in harps and strings and chimes, and saddled with a "Hey Jude" coda. It's rare enough, though not impossible, to find an album comprised entirely of lead-off tracks, but this is the only album I've encountered which is made up entirely of closing tracks. And in the case of "Two Thousand Places", the track itself seems to be back to front.

The only exceptions to this are the sub-two-minute miniatures - "Ensure Your Reservation" (a brief viola and theremin instrumental) and the short toytown march song "Everything Starts at the Seam". Sadly, tracks more often ooze their way to the eight- or 10-minute mark, and 10 minutes of the Spree chanting: "The trees want to grow/ Grow grow grow" can be pretty gruelling. At least The Hidden Cameras - the Spree's closest relations in the pop firmament - have a subversive gay-sex agenda lurking beneath their elegant swaths of sound; the Spree, by contrast, seem a little addled, their minds fogged in clouds of naive joy. Together they may well be heavy, but they sound a bit light-headed here.