Album Review: Beirut – No No No

At its best ‘No No No’ is cheerful, breezy, spirit-lifting.  But that same lightness is also what holds it back from being anything more than a solid, ultimately not-very-remarkable listen.  There’s plenty here that is nice, and pleasant, and I can imagine looking out of a bay window onto autumnal parkland enjoying this record as sonic accompaniment; but it never makes me stop and wonder at it alone.  Opening track ‘Gibraltar’ rather sets the tone – promising much with its jumping rhythm and choppy piano but never really finishing it off or moving on.

For all the buzz about Zach Condon’s world music influences, the brightest moments have more of a classic 70s feel – think piano-driven singer-songwriters trilling over simple-but-effective keyboard melodies.  ‘August Holland’ and ‘Perth’ are fine examples – the former subtly adjusting the dynamic with flute and guitar, the latter making great use of the horn section (Ben Lanz, trombone, and Kyle Resnick, trumpet).

There’s also a sense of a project only part-completed here.  I can’t work out what ‘At Once’ is for – one lyrical rotation stretched out for two minutes of meandering, maudlin melancholy, fleshed out by a directionless wash of brass. Elsewhere there’s the twee, pointless instrumental ‘As Needed’ and ‘Fener’ which incredibly, on a record that doesn’t quite make it to 30 minutes, outstays its welcome. There’s no reason for it to go on as long as it does, but without it, there wouldn’t be much of a song there to speak of.

Chances are that if you already like Beirut, you’ll enjoy the new album, but perhaps not adore it. If you don’t like Beirut already, I can’t see this changing your mind.  And if you’ve never heard them before, your enjoyment of ‘No No No’ is likely to depend on whether or not you enjoy Condon’s tremulous voice and whimsical compositions.

The truth is that I’d be happy enough to put together two chords, let alone make a record with a unified sound and evidence of ability and commitment. And Beirut have done that. But it doesn’t take me any further than that, so it’s a ‘6’ from me.

‘No No No’ is out on 4AD on September 11th.  For those keen to catch the band live they have one UK date currently planned on September 24th at Brixton Academy.

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