Artist: 7 Worlds Collide
Due Out: September 29th (U.S./Canada)
Putting aside my usual rules for reviewing compilation albums, 7 Worlds Collide is more deserving than most of its breed because of the level of collaboration. The tracks, though constructed by many separate artists, fit into one cohesive, and flowing portrait of 24 songs. For those who may not be aware, contributors include some of the most notable names in alternative music today, such as Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone; Radiohead's Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway; The Smiths' and Modest Mouse's Johnny Marr and of course, the mastermind of the effort, Neil Finn, amongst many others. The proceeds from the album directly benefit Oxfam, which looks to fight hunger and poverty.
"Too Blue" starts off the effort, featuring most of the project's main musicians. For the most part, it appears as a brightened-up Wilco track (makes sense since a large portion of the band's involved), and works as a perfect segue into the second song, one of the band's own, "You Never Know." One of the better tracks off of this year's Wilco (The Album), it fits surprisingly well into the mix here, and gives Tweedy his moment to shine above the rest. Next, "Little By Little" spends a good fifteen seconds doing a solid impression of Thom Yorke, before bursting into a frolicky part-country, part-indie pop jam. The up-tempo, vocally-involved melody gives way, however, to "Learn to Crawl," a track seemingly made for guitar ensemble.
"Black Silk Ribbon" pops in as our first completely female-dominated track, as Bic Runga and KT Tunstall move the song from its initial distorted fuzz to a classic chick-folk extravaganza. "Girl, Make Your Own Mind Up" backs the tempo down immediately afterward, inserting itself as a forlorn, pleading and melancholy acoustic number featuring some variation on a Wilco solo by track's end. Next, "Run In the Dust" is Marr's turn to lay in the limelight, as he presents this trippy and anthemic pop track that almost sounds as if it's been lifted from Radiohead's b-sides collection. Once again, immediately afterwards, the vibe is lurched to a halt by another slower number, this time smooth and airy jazz number, "Red Wine Bottle."
"The Ties That Bind Us," surely a preview of what Selway's solo album will be like, sends us into the first disc's homestretch on a positive note, as Phil's song plays like a folksy Radiohead. In keeping with sounding like other artists, "Reptile," Lisa Germano's first shot at singing on the album, sounds like a strange rejected Belle and Sebastian single, combining wispy indie pop with a campfire girl sing-along quality that's quaint in spurts. Without a second to waste though, it goes straight into "Bodhisattva Blues," which many fans have heard already. It sounds like a psychedelic jam band cover of a Wilco track, yet is surprisingly appealing, even with that description. Keeping with the Wilco theme, Tweedy brings disc one to a close with a stereotypical, albeit appropriate ballad of regret.
Headman Neil Finn finally embraces his role as ringleader on "All Comedians Suffer," shifting quickly back and forth between eccentric 80s hair metal interlude and classic alt-rock anthem. Staying loud, "Duxton Blues" is about as country as the album gets, functioning as a regular revival song, but not distractingly so. The energy on these first few Neil Finn-involved tracks on the second disc is uncanny, and infectious. Even so, that doesn't stop "Hazel Black" from turning into somewhat of a stripped down version of a Sheryl Crow top-40 hit (pass). Thankfully, we're rescued by Tim Finn's "Riding the Wave," a Coldplay-esque piano ballad that's as uplifting as it is sad. It's the type of thing Chris Martin would have done in 2004, just not anymore.
And then the album gets very somber, very quickly. Selway's "The Witching Hour" is appropriately dark and foreboding for the track's name, with a moody and mysterious air about it that lends very well to its theme. "Over and Done," actually seems more upbeat at first, before you realize the subject matter is all about a break up, and suddenly the piano ballad becomes more of a burden. Same goes for "Change of Heart," which does the same exact thing, just from a female point of view. As much as "Don't Forget Me" also touches on these themes, its fun southwestern flair and pop-rock sensibility make it a keeper amidst a fairly uneventufl final turn on the album.
"Long Time Gone" comes off immediately as a Dave Matthews Band cover, which is probably my main issue with it off the bat. Otherwise, it would probably be an enjoyable and maybe even pleasant experience. "The Cobbler" also employs an impressionistic nature, just more appealingly so. The song, without a doubt, pays homage to Elliott Smith, with a dreary, cloudy, heart-on-your-sleeves presentation that can only point to him. From here, the album's final two tracks are not much more than the last things keeping you from the end. "3 Worlds Collide" is a lot of ambitious African and Caribbean experimentation crammed into one song, while "The Water" is a very preachy, but relaxed guitar ballad that sends you away a lot more softly than you entered.
As I mentioned, The Sun Came Out is very cohesive, especially for a 24-track effort involving this many artists. My one issue, and it ends up being a fairly large one, is how it squanders the energy it builds in the opening, and portions of the middle, just to revolve itself around a few breakup songs and acoustic numbers. For all of the good here, and there is quite a bit, there are a bunch of tracks I could definitely have done without. Perhaps, though, that's what happens with a collection of this magnitude. Some songs are just destined to be duds, but sadly it's to this effort's detriment. Not that you really need any, but if you'd like similarities, consult Wilco, Neil Finn and Monsters of Folk.
Best Track: "Too Blue" (nothing original from album available, but Wilco's "You Never Know" is)
[Previously on Animal Noises: New 7 Worlds Collide: "Bodhisattva Blues"]