Ten years ago I got hugely into what was being referred to as the ‘Cosmic Americana’ scene, a loose sub-category of American alt-rock that had given us such instant classics as Deserter’s Songs, The Soft Bulletin and The Sophtware Slump.
An act I had initially lumped in with the likes of Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips and Grandaddy were The Polyphonic Spree, who to my ears were effectively the massed choral division of Cosmic Americana. At the time songs like “Soldier Girl”, “Hanging Around the Day Part 2” and “Reach for the Sun” seemed to broadly fit the parameters of Cosmic Americana and debut album The Beginning Stages of… was a great mix of life-affirming songs and (with neither rhyme nor reason), an extended droning sound that took up twenty or so minutes of the album.
So why did I never investigate their second and third albums? To be honest it’s something I can’t explain even now, but for some reason they just dropped off my radar and I played their debut album less and less. In fact it wasn’t until earlier this year when I heard Polyphonic Spree head-honcho Tim Delaughter’s great theme song for United States of Tara (“Learn to Love the Ride”) that I dug their debut album out, gave it a spin and it confirmed that it still stands up as a great mini album if you ignore the droning at the end.
After minimal googling I was intrigued that as of 2013 The Polyphonic Spree were still a going concern and were even releasing a new album this summer. Maybe, just maybe, they were still capable of great things.
Yes, It’s True starts off with “You Don’t Know Me”, a great pop rocker which raises optimistic expectations for the rest of the album. Midway through second track, “Popular by Design”, you begin to feel that there’s something missing. By third track “Hold Yourself Up”, you realise that the massed coral vocals that had been The Polyphonic Spree trademark early in their career have been dialed out in favour of Delaughter becoming the primary vocalist and the rest of the vocalists being relegated to backing singers. Sure, it’s a risky move, but despite the collaborative collective that the band appear to be, in truth Delaughter has always been the primary creative force behind the band, so why shouldn’t the spotlight be on him?
This revised approach plays dividends throughout Yes, It’s True, nowhere more so than on album stand-out “You’re Golden”, a song which has lodged itself at the top of my list of favourite Polyphonic Spree songs. As the album progresses, it becomes evident that The Polyphonic Spree’s sense of enjoyment at creating music hasn’t dimmed over the last decade, with “Let Them Be” having off kilter fun with production techniques and “Raise Your Head” being a song which could have been lifted directly from their life affirming debut.
Yes, It’s True closes with “Battlefield”, a mature, mid-paced tune and exactly the type of song that’s supposed to indicate the end of an album-length musical journey.
Except it doesn’t, because there’s a few minutes of organ droning as an annoyingly retro ‘hidden track’. Old habits die hard it seems.
While The Polyphonic Spree never did become the next big thing that some feel they could have been and even seemed to fall off the radar for a while, Yes, It’s True confirms that they are one of America’s great little big bands. Maybe too much success would have spoiled them and watered down their joyous spirit. That spirit remains, and with the massed choral vocals now kept to a minimum, it may encourage a few of their sceptics to give them a second chance.