Andrew Bird’s latest work is his finest yet
Matthew Kellenberg | Thursday, April 25, 2019
On the topic of predicting a film’s critical or commercial success, screenwriter William Goldman famously declared: “Nobody knows anything.” Goldman’s Law seems to apply to the music world as well. Rivers Cuomo of Weezer once called “Pinkerton,” the band’s second album, “a hideous record … a hugely painful mistake,” though it matured into one of Weezer’s most celebrated works. Kendrick Lamar called “DAMN.” his best album; it was not. Yet, it seems indie-folk veteran Andrew Bird has gotten it right with his 12th and latest record. His new music combines the best of earlier Andrew Bird: the quips on “The Mysterious Production of Eggs,” the layered production on “Armchair Apocrypha,” the pop sensibilities of “Are You Serious.” Together, these elements shape some of the most radical yet coherent songs of Bird’s career. He calls the record “My Finest Work Yet.”
Of course, one can already see the imprint of Bird’s tongue in his cheek. And this image does not fade at any point in “My Finest Work Yet.” The album art sees Bird recreating “The Death of Marat,” a 1793 painting of a murdered French revolutionary leader. The tracklist points to far-ranging, larger-than-life subjects: the legendary Sisyphus, proxy servers and Manifest Destiny all factor into Bird’s vision. Later on, Bird proclaims his foolhardy plan to “make you part of [his] conspiracy.” It’s all very grandiose. Yet, Bird is not only aware of his own absurd ambitions, but also eagerly prepared to chase these ambitions as far as he can. At its root, “My Finest Work Yet” is an impossible project, but that only makes Bird’s commitment more exciting to watch.
Just as absurd ambitions animate “My Finest Work Yet,” Bird’s moments of restraint balance the record and free him to contemplate his own inner turmoil. A brooding buildup on “Bloodless” accentuates the song’s simple, politically-charged bridge: “It’s an uncivil war.” Bird’s soft whistling on “Cracking Codes” might not be the flashiest move, but the light touch gracefully fleshes out the song’s instrumental section. And on the unhurried outro to “Don the Struggle,” Bird’s violin composition delicately traces the ineffable existential fatigue of an artist “just stumbling down / in an unnamed struggle in town.” Though “My Finest Work Yet” might be gaudy, it is no gimmick — Bird’s maturity as a lyricist and composer shines through even his most ridiculous works.
Furthermore, however self-referential “My Finest Work Yet” may be (see: its title), Bird does not lose himself in navel-gazing. Rather, the musician calls for dialogue. On “Archipelago,” first released on the political compilation album “Songs for Swing Left,” Bird argues, “Our enemies are what make us whole.” In the interplay of disparate notes, Bird sees harmony. And though Bird has the sole voice on this record, he does not purport to have absolute authority. On “Sisyphus,” Bird sings, “I’d rather fail like a mortal than flail like a god.” Even on his finest work yet, Bird acknowledges that his is but one mortal voice, prone to error but nevertheless eager to speak.
Artist: Andrew Bird
Album: “My Finest Work Yet”
Label: Loma Vista Recordings
Favorite Tracks: “Sisyphus,” “Archipelago,” “Manifest”
If you like: Father John Misty, The Decemberists, Beirut