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4.3 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Audio CD, August 21, 2007
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THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS return with their fourth album and their first recorded outside of bassist John Collins's basement studio. Airier, more spacious and more relaxed than its jackhammer predecessors, 'Challengers' is the sound of songwriters Carl Newman and Dan B‚jar stretching out. In a recent Pitchfork interview, Newman rejected the "power-pop" label and suggested "power-folk" instead, and several songs on the new album live up to it, particularly the luscious Neko Case fronted ballads "Go Places" and "Challengers." That's not to say the band doesn't play anthems - it certainly does, but a rousing track like B‚jar's "Myriad Harbour" is more imbued with the ghosts of Fred Neil and Viv Stanshall than with the new-wave songsters of yore. In general, Newman's songwriting is slightly more scrutable this time around; his lyrics still ring with wry perception and political metaphor, but betray some of the magnanimity that comes with new love - "our arms fill with miracles", he writes in "Go Places".

Pay no attention to the reviews that imply the New Pornographers have "grown up" or "matured" or "drifted away" from the perfect-pop promise of their first three records. For if you throw darts at the songs on Challengers, an ambitious soundscape that had members of the all-star Canadian band recording their parts all over North America, you'll hit one flawless song after another. "All The Old Showstoppers," "All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth," and "Mutiny, I Promise You" (with its driving Farfisa organ) all venture back to the infectiousness of the band's earlier records, with leader and chief songwriter A.C. Newman (now a Brooklyn native) penning some of the most thought-provoking lyrics this side of Billy Bragg. Yes, there are departures, including a string section, flute and harp, and Dan Bejar's foray into indie-pop hip-hop with the witty, New York-heavy "Myriad Harbour." But there's also Neko Case dominating the divine title track and equally charming "Go Places"" as only she can, Kathryn Calder making her lead-vocal debut on "Failsafe" and (with Newman) on the melancholy "Adventures in Solitude," and Newman using an ambitious six and a half minutes to write about his new home city ("Unguided"). Then, your 50 minutes--a dozen songs--are up, as is the conclusion: Grown up? Sure. Matured? OK. Still pop perfect? Utterly. --Scott Holter

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (August 21, 2007)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Matador Records
  • ASIN: B000S9KSC8
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,460 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
It's probably best to get it out of the way, so here it goes: the New Pornographers will probably never be able to create an album as good or better than "Twin Cinema." When "Twin Cinema" released around two years ago, I had never heard of this "supergroup" or any of the members to whom the label is attributed. But when I picked up the album on the insistence of several reviews and a preview listen, I knew that this was a band that was perfect for me. The power pop music that on that album was near-flawless and it remains just as exciting and powerful today as it was in 2005. So no, "Challengers" is not better or as good as "Twin Cinema." But once you get over that fact, you'll find an album that is great in its own right and definitely worth owning.

It starts off with the first single, "My Rights Versus Yours." I have to be honest, when I first listened to the song a few months ago I was not a fan. The song lacked the powerful hooks and grandiose climaxes that "Twin Cinema" flaunted on pretty much every song. Of course, since then I've been able to appreciate the song for it's absolutely beautiful lyrics, and relentless drive. Carl Newman's delivery is flawless as he sings "We hang suspended from the heights until it's safer to walk here." The hook is a bit weak in my opinion("The truth in one free afternoon"), but it really doesn't distract from this great song. "All the Old Showstoppers" continues the fantastic songwriting from the first track. It really feels like a group effort, especially by the time the bridge rolls around.

It runs head-on into the title track, "Challengers." It's not only one of my favorite tracks on the album, but probably one of my favorites of 2007. Neko Case takes over the vocals here, and she once again nails it.
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Format: Audio CD
The New Pornographers are two bands in one. On the one hand, there is the studio version of the band that includes non-touring members like the great Neko Case and Dan Bejar. Then there is the touring version of the band, that takes these amazing songs and performs them live. Both versions are centered around Carl Newman. He helps assure that the Pornographers are a great live band, even without its distinguished non-touring members, but with all members involved, this is one of the truly great studio bands in the world. CHALLENGERS is their fourth album. I honestly can't describe it as their best or their worst album. All four of their albums seem to me to be absolutely masterpieces and I was astonished to discover just how great this album has turned out to be. It isn't quite like earlier albums. For one thing, almost all the songs on CHALLENGERS are slower and statelier than almost any of the songs on previous albums. The first three cuts on the disc - "My Rights Versus Yours," "All the Old Showstoppers," and the title track represent the slowest beginning of any of their albums, but by no means are any of them weak songs. "All the Old Showstoppers" starts off almost delicately, but it gradually builds into a march as one new musical wrinkle after another is introduced to the mix. More than any other band, I would love to see these guys working on a recording. They are just dripping with talent and it would be wonderful to see who is responsible for introducing each new element. An individual song might be written initially by Newman or Bejar, but by the end of the recording process, it has been transformed into something that is obviously a group effort.Read more ›
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Tell me something. Did the Beatles sound the same on "Rubber Soul" as they did on "Meet the Beatles"? No, of course not. Does that make "Rubber Soul" any less interesting of an album? Quite the opposite. The same goes for the New Pornographers' latest release which, like the Fab Four's middle period albums, has more variety and subtlety than their early albums, but still retains the pop song artistry that they've been known for in the past. Actually, they've always had their slower, quieter side on a few songs from previous albums, so this transition shouldn't be completely unexpected by NP fans. And of course, they deliver the goods (meaning manic rockin' out) the same as they've ever done on at least two or three tracks here. So now we also have the opportunity to rest a bit between bop sessions. Is there a problem with that? Not for me.
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Format: Audio CD
After 2005's brilliant Twin Cinema, New Pornographers leader Carl Newman made a conscious decision to do something a little different for the band's next trick. Consequently, Challengers pulls back a bit from the bombastic power-pop the group is known for. With the ranks of the band now swelled to eight members, the arrangements take center stage this time out. Well, the arrangements as well as the female vocals. Neko Case has been an integral member of the band since the beginning, providing a powerful voice on both lead and backing vocals. But with her solo career taking off, The New Pornographers had to recruit another woman to sing for them when Case wasn't available to tour. Enter Kathryn Calder on vocals and piano. Although she showed up here and there on Twin Cinema, she really comes into her own on Challengers.

The album kicks off with "My Rights Versus Yours," a mid-tempo song with an irresistible chorus. It starts off sparsely, with just Newman's voice, soft guitar, and a quiet keyboard. Gradually the rest of the band enters- backing vocals, bass guitar, a tambourine, drums. After 90 seconds the song is going full force and the first chorus kicks in. Then, a bridge, with the traditional duet vocals of Newman and Case. But by the end of the bridge, Calder is there, too, adding another layer to the harmony and staying there for the chorus. While the song never bursts out into the full rock you'd expect from earlier Pornographers songs, it's a perfect example of the careful, meticulous arrangements the album is filled with.

"All Old Showstoppers" rides a similar mid-tempo groove and has more of Case's backing vocals providing extra punch to Newman's lead. "Challengers" is next, and the first ballad of the album.
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