The New Pornographers, Challengers (Matador Records, 2007)

The New Pornographers began life in the late nineties as a side project of a number of performers involved in the Vancouver music scene. By the time their first CD Mass Romantic came out in 2000, though, most of the band members' other musical projects had fallen by the wayside. Only vocalist Neko Case, who has had a superb career as a solo artist, has matched separately what the New Pornographers have accomplished collectively. Last month they followed up their excellent 2005 CD Twin Cinema with the release of their fourth album, titled Challengers.

Challengers largely follows the same formula established on the first three New Pornographers albums. Guitarist A. C. Newman writes most of the songs, giving a few to Case to sing and singing the rest himself. The remaining songs are contributed by Danny Bejar, whose quirky stream-of-consciousness lyrics have always provided a welcome counterpoint to Newman's more conventional approach. Musically, the band haven't strayed too far from the power pop that defined their sound initially, although the new album does include a bit of orchestration. Some of Newman's lyrics on the new record take a fairly serious tone as well; on the opener "My Rights Versus Yours," he sings about not wanting to fall under the wheels of "the new empire in rags."

I felt that the New Pornographers took a big step forward the previous time around with Twin Cinema, especially Newman as a songwriter. Challengers, while still good on the whole and certainly worth getting if you're a fan, didn't make quite the same impression on me. It has some fun songs like "All Of The Things That Go To Make Heaven And Earth" and "Mutiny, I Promise You," but I feel that the band covers mostly familiar territory here. Still, it's a respectable effort from one of the better bands out there right now.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

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