Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
- Artist: Okkervil River
- Album: The Stand Ins
- Label: Jagjaguwar
- Year of Release: 2008
- ME Rating:
- Reviewed by: MusicCritic on 2011-05-11
There are few things worse than most “price of fame” albums. Though there are doubtlessly many drawbacks to spending months on the road, being recognized at a fast food joint and having loyal fans endlessly scream their approval. While everyone complains about their jobs, just because your job includes a microphone and a recording studio doesn’t mean you should use them to voice your qualms. The Stand Ins, Okkervil River’s fifth album and a companion piece of sorts to 2007′s The Stage Names, comes dangerously close to being one of these self-indulgent mope-fests.
Musically, The Stand Ins doesn’t feature anything particularly new to the Okkervil River canon. The same dark folk and brit-pop influences heard on earlier albums largely dominate, anchored by Will Sheff’s emotive voice and the odd burst of horns. Luckily, Okkervil River has always been about the lyrics and the cerebral writing of Will Sheff elevates the album beyond its instrumental trappings and potentially disastrous subject matter into a poignant examination of the frivolity of the musical world.
Throughout the album, Sheff sets about tearing down the musical facade, leaving only the naked, self-conscious, individuals so attention starved they’ll resort to emotional manipulation underneath. On ‘Singer Songwriter’ he cuts into music’s creative importance, bitingly pointing out that a song’s message is worth less than the high school notebook its lyrics are scrawled on when he sings, “And this thing you once said disappeared from my head/In the time that it took to be amazed/And this thing you once did might have dazzled the kids/But the kids once grown up are gonna walk away/And your world is gonna change nothing.”
Sheff goes even further on ‘Pop Lie,’ a scathing critique of the vacuity of a style of music preened and primed for mass acceptance. Fittingly, the song is easily The Stand Ins‘ catchiest, which only furthers his point that in a time when pop writing has been reduced to a science, actual content is completely irrelevant. Cheekily, Sheff reserves the song and album’s biggest hook for the lines, “But at the food court, the float’s inflated/People line up to see/The man who dreamed up the dream/That they rest their hearts upon/He’s the liar who lied in his pop song/And you’re lying when you sing along.”
Fortunately, Sheff isn’t some egotistical iconoclast. He knows he’s not above his album’s widespread damning and doesn’t spare himself from the fire. Instead, he practically positions himself as the worst offender, the person who knows he’s living a lie, but lives it anyway. “I was supposed to be writing the most beautiful poems/And completely revealing/Divine mysteries up close/I can’t say that I’m feeling that much at all,” he sings on ‘On Tour with Zykos’ and later, “I am discussed with desire by the guys who conspire at the only/Decent bar in town/And they drink MGDs/and they wish they had me like I wish I had fire.”
It’s this inclusion that truly sets The Stand Ins apart from being a dreaded “price of fame” album. Sheff isn’t complaining that the dream he pursued didn’t turn out to be as dream-like as he thought; he’s showing the emptiness of the dream itself and those who follow it. He’s letting us know that even the artists – himself included – are just as fake, insecure and desperate as everybody else. But even with this bleak message, The Stand Ins will still amicably get stuck in your head and you can easily tap your foot and hum along. As Sheff goes to such lengths to point out, music is only entertainment, after all.
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