Following two years of pandemic lockdowns and with the horror of war hanging over us, Band Of Horses’ new album Things Are Great (4 March 2022; BMG) just about hits the spot.
A lot of the songs are light and airy and there is plenty of wry humour to be found for those willing to look. One such example is on Tragedy Of The Commons where band leader Ben Bridwell intones: “The night time is the wrong time to be with the one you love.” These moments help us digest the bigger and more challenging pills we are asked to swallow, but we’ll return to that below.
Things Are Great is the South Carolina band’s first album since 2016’s Why Are You OK, which represented a moment of change in terms of the line-up. Lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey and bass player Bill Reynolds left to be replaced by guitarist Ian MacDougall and bassist Matt Gentling, who join longtime members keyboardist Ryan Monroe and drummer Creighton Barrett. Bridwell continues to be the driving force in the band both as singer-guitarist, probably with his Les Paul, and as lyricist. Musically this offering has been described by the band as "a return to their earlier work and the kind of raw ethos that lies at the heart of Band of Horses."
The album was announced back in October, 2021, when Band of Horses issued the single Crutch. The response was immediately positive and as its success has shown, Bridwell’s writing is as pointed as ever. Musically it might be described as folk pop, with guitars to the fore and Bridwell playing with the words “crutch” and “crush,” in lines like: “I got a crutch on you, guess I got nothing to lose, Inebriated late afternoon, you were fading, now I'm holding on too, I got a crutch on you, finally nothing left to prove.”
The album kicks off heavy and dark, however, with the outstanding Warning Signs. “Small talk with a registered nurse, Not to cry in front of people at work, Well that’s hard, hard, hard, at times you know,” Bridwell sings, emphasising how difficult a ‘normal day’ can sometimes be with his repetition. This lyric was reportedly inspired by the time he lost his voice on stage at Sydney Opera House. You can’t fault the songwriter for his directness: “I’m having a hell of a hard time,” he says on You Are Nice To Me; but, in a reflection that echoes The Smiths in their heyday, he recognises that he’s “always complaining about something.”
Two other standout tracks are the blues-driven In The Hard Times – although it is perhaps a little over-extended – and the initially upbeat In Need Of Repair. Scratch the surface, however, and you find the admission that “every day and night I hide from hurt” and that “I’m in a state of disrepair, trying to take it to the morning.”
Closer Coalinga features fiddles and an angelic chorus that recall some of the band’s earlier work. The central Californian city has a population of around 14,000 but Bridwell has focused on it because the “cow shit smelling hellhole” apparently has some nice people living in it. I guess the lyricist is not planning on standing for Lord Mayor there anytime soon.
Band of Horses’ Things Are Great may just be the medicine we need at the moment. It is musically warm and lyrically straight-talking, with plenty of dark humour for those who are open to it. It is, in sum, bittersweet… and it is available to you now.