The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Communion (Yep Rock Records, 2009)

With their strong 2001 CD Behind the Music and their even better 2004 follow-up Origin, vol. 1, Sweden's The Soundtrack of Our Lives established themselves as one of the best, if not the best, rock bands of the current decade. Sure, singer Ebbet Lundberg's lyrics could get hokey at times, but the psychedelic power rock backing supplied by Ian Person and Mattias Bärjed on guitar, Martin Hederos on keyboards, Kalle Gustafsson Jerneholm on bass, and Frederik Sandsten on drums was just so good that it didn't matter. Despite no official release for four years, the band has kept very busy writing and recording new material. They had originally planned on making an album called Origin, vol. 2, but wound up shelving the songs they already had in favor of putting together a massive, 90-minute double album called Communion. Pulling it off was no small accomplishment, but like most double albums (and many single CD's that run past fifty minutes), it's hard not to wonder if a little bit less would have been a lot more.

From the tantric opening song "Babel On" to the anthemic closer "The Passover," TSOOL lay the psychedelia down extra thick on Communion. When I saw them in concert a few years ago, the person sitting next to me said she described them to a friend as "stoner prog, but in a good way;" if anything, that description applies even more to Communion than it did to the previous records. Virtually every song hearkens back to the rock of the late sixties and early seventies, and the whole album has a spacey, trippy feel to it. The album does hit more than it misses, though. Highlights from the first disc include a livened up version of Nick Drake's "Fly" (I believe that's the first time they've covered anybody on an album), a brilliant power pop track with the strange title "Mensa's Marauders," and the scorching "Distorted Child." The second CD is noticeably mellower than disc 1. This wouldn't be a problem at all if it were treated as a separate album, but if you're already starting to wear out by the end of disc 1 it can drag a bit. Still, "Flipside" and "Utopia" are strong tracks worth repeated listens, and there's also a very nice acoustic instrumental called "Digitarian Riverbank."

The one real problem with Communion is that there's just so much music that it's hard to digest all of it. A really effective double album needs to hit the listener in many different ways, like The White Album and Exile On Main Street do, or have a strong unifying theme to build the songs around, like Quadrophenia does. I don't fault The Soundtrack of Our Lives for their ambition, but Communion couldn't quite sustain the momentum for a full ninety minutes. They could have easily held on to a few of these songs for the next album, or just gone with the best fifteen tracks, and I think the album would have been more effective as a result.

Communion does not come out on CD in America until March 3, but it's already available for download. It was released throughout Europe in late 2008.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

A live performance of "Mensa's Mauraders."

No comments: