PETER BJORN AND JOHN – Living Thing (2009)

Peter Bjorn and John - Living Thing Living Thing is a bit of a misnomer for Peter Bjorn and John’s latest album; it’s the furthest thing from alive I’ve heard all year. This is less of an insult than it might appear to be, as the band’s music has always been rather relaxed and insular. But on Writer’s Block, the band took their casual atmosphere and let it roam out into areas it previously hadn’t ventured to; that crucial decision was what made the album as great as it is. So, as if to counteract the damage done by that move, the band released Seaside Rock last year, which, unfortunately, was a lifeless collection of (mostly) instrumentals that sounded phoned in from some Caribbean hell. I was hoping that Living Thing (the band’s newest “proper” album – Seaside Rock was available only as a vinyl and a digital download) would fare better, but alas, it does not. And what’s more frustrating is that, in many ways, it’s worse.

You needn’t look far for proof of this than the album’s first single, Nothing To Worry About; the chorus is essentially an annoying redux of the chorus of Amsterdam, and the song is propelled forward by some comically out of place hip-hop beats augmented with natural percussion. Simply put, it’s horrendous. Now, I’m all for bands experimenting, but I also know that experimentation only works if the band’s spirit (whatever it is that makes them special) is present in the new work. This is why The Dillinger Escape Plan were able to successfully cover Justin Timberlake’s Like I Love You, and this is why Casiotone For The Painfully Alone failed to cover Missy Elliot’s Hot Boyz on their recent compilation: one sounds sincere and the other one doesn’t.

If Living Thing was merely insincere, I could write it off as a misguided effort, and that would be that. But Living Thing is more than insincere. It’s musically stuffy and it’s structurally repetitive (and not in a glorious pop way, either) and, it’s depressingly empty. Those are three very bad things for any album to be. A hot indie release of 2009 this is not. I’d avoid it.


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