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Joseph Arthur’s ‘Let’s Just Be’ pales in comparison

Observer Scene | Thursday, April 10, 2008

Joseph Arthur has been spoiling us for the last eight years. With such albums as 2000’s “Come to Where I’m From,” 2002’s “Redemption’s Son” and 2004’s “Our Shadows Will Remain,” Arthur listeners have been treated to superb solo albums. A significant element of the “OC” and “American Pie” period of American teen culture, Arthur’s song “Honey and the Moon” was featured on both the popular Fox show and in “American Wedding.” Unfortunately, the level of achievement in Arthur’s 2007 release, “Let’s Just Be,” is sadly mediocre. The album contains a few wonderful moments, but unfortunately, the majority of the album sways between crashing and clunky where Arthur never seems to find his stride.

The problem with this record isn’t even that its particularly bad music, because it’s not. It’s fine. Some of it is even good, and a few of the songs border on excellence. The problem is that Arthur himself has been so good in the past that anything, which doesn’t quite measure up, seems bad.

Perhaps the most prevalent feeling expressed on the record is one of emptiness. Where earlier records were filled with tender, emotive, yet subtly powerful imagery, this new set of songs seems mostly vacant of any real emotional expression.

Maybe that’s what Arthur was going for.

After singing from the core for eight years, it is entirely likely that he needed a fresh perspective on the music. If so, then he’s achieved it. Unfortunately, by achieving a new perspective, he’s also lost (for the moment) his distinct and lovely way of expressing thoughts and feelings through distinctly unique and original song.

The album is at its best with the tracks “Take Me Home” and “Chicago.” On “Take Me Home,” Arthur returns for a wonderful four minutes to the feelings and styles that made his earlier album releases so poignant and memorable. Relying on a simple chord structure, with soft drums and a melancholy singing voice, Arthur sings of the moments after love has been lost when two old lovers face each other with a sad tenderness found only in the meeting of soft hearts and aching desires: “I can see the sun / I think the evening’s done / Take me home / You look good on your own / Sometimes it’s good to say goodbye / Before you make it to the end of time.” It’s a brilliant, sad song, perfect for those moments when you want the music to make you think, rather than lament. It’s a song of memories and one that anyone who’s learnt to say goodbye will understand and appreciate.

The next track, “Chicago” turns up the tempo a good bit in the wake of “Take Me Home.” Reminiscent of earlier Arthur tunes like “In the Sun” and “Can’t Exist,” the song is a call to a significant another to trust and to believe in Arthur’s words and promises. He sings: “Your mirror is destroyed / I see you now trying to avoid / The truth of who you really are / The heat will stay with the flame / So your beauty never will change / To me you will always be a star.” It’s clear that Arthur is trying to convince someone to stay around and to hold onto a feeling that has become fractured and distant. With its rousing chorus, the song is catchy and a joy to listen to on repeat.

Basically, the record is OK. It’s definitely more rocking than the earlier Arthur stuff, though it doesn’t quite equal the majestic power and beauty of the prior releases. If you’re willing to accept a new sound and perspective, then album is worth a look. If not, download “Take Me Home” and “Chicago” and you’ll be set.

Contact James Costa at jcosta1@nd.edu