Sunday, May 5, 2019

Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride

The first thing that needs to be said about Vampire Weekend's fourth album, Father of the Bride,just out, it should have been a single rather than the double they've chosen to release. This is not a new story in the history of the album. It's been said about many, many records released in the format since The Beatles put out The White Album in 1968. 

Even releasing a double album immediately risks self-indulgence and potentially loses sight of quality control. Such is quite certainly the case here. There's a kernel of a very good record here. Not the match of their last Modern Vampires of the City, which I suspect will come to be seen as their masterpiece, but there's far too much flab here and as a result it's difficult to detect what exactly the vision behind the record was.

Make no mistake, Vampire Weekend are very good at what they do. Their gauche, too cool for Graduate School poise has struck a chord with many, many people down the years, myself included. I'm still tempted to put Oxford Comma on the jukebox every time I go into my local. No less an authority than Robert Forster praised it as the 'best song of the last five years' when it first came out in 2008 and he might well have been right.

Nevertheless they're a strangely divisive band. They're hugely detested, which seems odd for a group who trade largely in happy, sunny tuneful and very well crafted melodies. Much of this disdain from so many quarters seems to stem from the band's hugely privileged upbringings and determined preppiness. For appearing on Saturday Night Live in sweaters. For Ezra Koenig's constant referencing of Billy Joel and Peter Gabriel in interviews rather than The Velvet Underground and Can. For wearing their backgrounds on their sleeves rather than trying to draw a veil over them by donning leather jackets. Like The Strokes who were no less silver spoon merchants than they were. Also for being so clearly in debt to Paul Simon who remains Koenig's great formative influence and speaks so often through so many of the tracks on Father of the Bride. I'm not complaining about that last one. In many ways this record is at its best when it channels Simon at his purest.

Father of the Bride is not going to convince anyone who likes the band not to like them or convert a single naysayer. It sounds pretty much like previous Vampire Weekend albums. Pretty much an Ezra Koenig solo record in all but name though he also has no end of collaborators. But it's certainly not The Vampire Weekend that first stirred things up all those years back. The two Chrises who make up the band's rhythm section do play on the record but don't appear on publicity photos for it while Rostam Batmanglij who was hugely responsible for so much of the musical template of their sound has effectively left, though he does turn up on a couple of songs and had some input into the way the record sounds.

And it sounds like Vampire Weekend. A continuation of the brand. All that's really changed is Koenig's perspective. No less literary but married and a father, not of the bride, but of a child. No less literary or self-aware but judging by this, lacking in a bit of self-direction. Because what after all do you do if you come from huge money and achieve huge success early on, but repeat yourself? Or turn out a double album when you really should just put out a better single one.

I have a good friend, one of my best. particularly for discussing music, who despises Vampire Weekend . 'They give me hives' he said when I told him I was listening to the new record on Friday on social media. There would be much on here that would probably threaten to give him a seizure. Some of the affectations. Some of the studio effects. A trio of tracks towards the end of the record which are among the most excruciatingly irritating and self-indulgent things I've heard for a long long time. Like having to listen to Ob La Di when you had been really enjoying The White Album.

In the midst of this are some of the best songs the band have put out, some great lyrical moments but no real adventuring or sense of fresh discovery. Privilege is a wonderful gilded cage to be born into but it's a cage nevertheless of sorts. Koenig explores the cage here and ends up asking more questions than he answers. Enjoy Father of the Bride, it has plenty going for it. It's just not the equal of the album that preceded it.

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