Blue Rodeo – [Album]

Monday, 23 November 2009

It's nice to know that, sometimes, old ideas and ways of working in the music business are still upheld by some bands. In the last fifteen years particularly, most music groups that are impatient to make an impact have embarked upon a standardized, accelerated growth curve but, perhaps because of that increased pace, fall apart or burn out faster too. Even as early as 1995, the question of over-ambitious creative over-reaching was being asked as Smashing Pumpkins released a sprawling double album to follow the success of Siamese Dream. Conspicuously, they fell apart (the first time) and, to be honest, have never recovered in spite of returning “rejuvenated” a couple of times now. Similar events end the stories of other groups too numerous to mention and, at this point, it's actually getting a bit comical; grand gestures have begun to equate to a kiss of death, particularly now that the music business itself recently declared a state of financial emergency. The grand gesture is now the ultimate long shot – but Blue Rodeo has always been the sort of band to beat the odds and do it effortlessly. They've consistently done things that many critics said were beyond the band; only to be humbled and spoon-fed their own words when it all works out. That may precisely be why The Things We Left Behind exists – as the major label music industry has discovered new income by parting out albums as individual songs on iTunes or as seconds-long bleats for cellphone ring tones, Blue Rodeo has elected to undertake an endeavor that has historically been very time-consuming and expensive to make. It's a gamble and surprising that a major label would green-light the project as they nervously watch their dollars and cents.

So that's the secret to such an outing? The answer is as simple as it is difficult; making a double album in this tenuous climate is easy – all a band needs to do is make sure every song on it is good. More than that, make each track essential listening. That's exactly what Blue Rodeo has done for The Things We Left Behind.

The marvel of this album is that, as ambitious as it is, Blue Rodeo makes all sixteen songs sound enormous but positively effortless in execution. Listeners know they're in for something epic as the strings and giant timpani drums that open the record build, crest and fall into the laid back and sadly beautiful country rock that that courses through the channels of “All The Things That Are Left Behind.” The song is an epic – even if it isn't necessarily meant to be. Taking a page from the books of the fine folk and rock artisans of the late Sixties and Seventies, Blue Rodeo focuses on timeless themes of broken hearts and hope to overcome, but presents it in such a way and with such belief that it feels warm and lived in. That angle is what will hook listeners – the bitter and the sweet, the cherished and discarded all wrapped in time-honored forms and changes – and it's done so well that listeners don't want the band to break the hold; it's a sweet melancholy embrace. The mood shifts to a more dry-eyed frustration as soon as “One More Night” rolls out and, with it, the die is cast; with hard feelings at heart cut with equal amounts of hurt and hope, Blue Rodeo walks a classic album line on disc one of The Things We Left Behind that will make listeners swoon, sway and heave a sigh of comfort. Songs including “Waiting For The World,” “One Light Left In Heaven” and (the lengthy) “Million Miles” all find singers Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy in fine, reflective voice with that staple sweet, Byrds-by-way-of-Soul Asylum guitar tone (the same one that made “Till I Am Myself Again” the most unlikely hit at the height of grunge years ago) stealing the hearts that the singers miss easily; here, every change and minor chord feels like another reason to live. Not content to just simper though, on tracks including “Sheba” and “Never Look Back” Blue Rodeo recalls the rockier early days of Wilco (a la AM) in the best possible, warmest light. The combination of those two emotional sides equates to a defining moment for the band in that it's clear they've lost nothing over time, but honed it to a flawless presentation.

That would be enough for most bands, but not Blue Rodeo. The eight tracks that comprise disc one of What We Left Behind play as an album unto themselves but there's a whole other disc of music here that shows a whole other possibility.

Disc two is where Blue Rodeo turns the lights down and gets as instrumentally intimate as the lyrics on disc one implied. Stripped of the larger sounds that pulled listeners like moths to a flame on the first disc of the set, Blue Rodeo stands bare and comparatively unadorned in songs like “Venus Rising,” “Don't Let The Darkness In Your Head” and “And When You Wake Up” to plead their case with audiences and beg for a little redemption. Bob Packwood's piano factors more heavily into disc two's run-time which causes a more heartfelt air to overtake the proceedings (even in the Crazy Horse-esque workout “Venus Rising”). After the frustration that would creep into each song on disc one on a regular basis, the tenor of disc two almost feels like an apology; as if disc one represented the tail end of a big fight with disc two encapsulating the inevitable fallout and misgivings about all the decisions made. It's easy to feel that way as “You Said” croaks to life and causes eyes to well up; the hope and passion is still there, but also an unmistakable sense of regret that makes the emotional transition from frustration to a “Well, what if I was wrong” questioning that much easier to find, feel and relate to. While disc one could stand on its own as a complete offering, disc two caps it and makes it all feel complete; nothing is resolved, but the transitions in mood between the two discs make the set feel like a complete thought process that, once finished, listeners are able to walk away from feeling as though they're ready for whatever Blue Rodeo comes up with next.


Blue Rodeo – "All The Things That Are Left Behind" – The Things We Left Behind

The Things We Left Behind
is out now and available at Amazon as a Canadian import. Buy it here .

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