Most helpful critical review
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Not bad, but very disappointing
on March 18, 2012
I'm a little surprised at the reception this album has gotten. I read the 5-star reviews, the 90%+ reviews, and I just can't understand how people are getting that much enjoyment, or emotional resonance, or what have you out of this album.
I admit, I was late to Andrew Bird. Noble Beast/Useless Creatures was my first album of his (though I'd had Heretics and The Water Jet Cilice in my library for ages from compilations). I was so blown away by the literate, complex, interesting, and emotionally gripping songs on that album that I began delving back through his solo and Bowl of Fire catalog and found a very respectable corpus that, while imperfect and tending towards the precious, mostly really worked for me.
My initial reactions to the Break It Yourself material were negative. Eyeoneye seemed not to go anywhere, and outtake The Crown Salesman didn't work for me at all. But I suspected that the songs weren't representative of the album, so I dutifully trudged down to the record store after work on release day to pick it up. "Near Death Experience Experience" sounded like dodgy non-wordplay, but I didn't prejudge.
At first listen, I was relieved. It was recognizably Andrew Bird, and the songs seemed to have some depth to them. But the more I listened to the album - and I've listened at least a dozen times now - the less happy with it I was. The pacing seemed off, several songs just seemed bad, and even the better tracks were lacking the complexity and depth that I had loved.
Again, some of the songs just aren't very good. After a great plucking intro, "Give It Away" devolved into a leaden lump dragging down the first side, with an uninteresting melody and "clever" financial metaphors that compare poorly to Banking on a Myth. It's just boring. "Near Death Experience Experience" squanders a decent track with some great lyrics and ideas (like ripping off 90s one-hit wonders Fastball's "The Way") with the singularly mawkish and chain-jerking chorus "We'll dance like cancer survivors when the prognosis was that you should have died." While it's not as offensive as the previous two, "Fatal Shore" drags on and on without any real development or interest. (If you're going to revisit a great lyric from a previous album, there should be more inspiration involved.)
Thankfully, there are some great songs on offer: Danse Caribe, with its amazing intercontinental development; Sifters, with its resonant astronomical and personal imagery; Hole in the Ocean Floor, with its fractured tides. Eyeoneye works better for me in the context of the album than it did as a single. The rest aren't bad, but not outstanding - though an Annie Clark duet deserves stronger material than "Lusitania."
But I believe in albums, and even the better songs here do not make a really solid album. Break It Yourself is amorphous as a whole, without a clear theme or any particular unifying feeling. Bird's last two solo albums were remarkably well-sequenced, and I'm sorry that didn't carry forward; but then, I couldn't figure out a compelling sequence for these songs. Dropping the three dud tracks produced a much lighter and easier-to-manage 11 track, 46 minute album - give it a try even if you liked the album.
Nobody is perfect all the time, and I will certainly keep paying attention to Mr. Bird. Serious fans should buy this album and give it a real chance or three. But I would not recommend this album to new listeners or to casual fans. The previous three albums offer much more treasure for your time and money.