Album Review: Glen Hansard ‘Rhythm and Repose’
The album opens in a dark place with ‘You Will Become’, a song that feels very resigned and dejected. Glen seems to be looking back on love not with regret that a relationship has ended, but with sadness for the fact that it happened at all. This is the gloaming of Rhythm and Repose, served up cold right from the start, and with it there is an oddly hopeful feeling that we are headed someplace much brighter.
From there, ‘Maybe Not Tonight’ introduces a country vibe, and sticks with the story of a relationship lost to lethargy. It also feels a little bit loungey, though, like background music for a coffee shop, which makes it all too easy to overlook. ‘Talking with the Wolves’ has a nifty, upbeat and scatterbrained start, but it falls into the same trap of aiming to be perhaps a bit too pleasant and simple.
This is dangerous territory for Glen Hansard, an artist who is plainly at his best when he is completely unrestrained and vocally explosive. His past work with The Swell Season suffered at times from the same set of symptoms. By contrast, his passionate, solo moments in Once soared with big, raw emotion.
When Hansard does let loose on Rhythm and Repose he often sounds more like he is performing than feeling his way through the songs. Even though there is a lot more emotion in his voice on ‘High Hope’, it feels overly theatrical, more like a Broadway show than an intimate performance from a master of folk music.
Early in the album he seems to look for an epic and far-reaching feeling, rather than focusing on his clear strength of singing from deep within himself. Sweeping strings take over one of the album’s best tracks, ‘Bird of Sorrow’, and he still manages to carry it with his voice, but only just. ‘The Storm, It’s Coming’ is another good one, but it’s too easily lost among songs all searching for the same space in the listener’s heart.
‘What Are We Gonna Do’ seems to fit in with all the rest, but there’s a palpable difference. For one, this man sounds absolutely amazing in a duet, and maybe that’s what pulls him out of the production and into the moment. Hopefully the song isn’t lost in the wallow and murk of the album, because it’s absolutely fantastic.
This whole record is surprisingly gentle, especially after Hansard’s excellent contribution to the soundtrack for The Hunger Games, ‘Take the Heartland’, which was determined and relentless, and had more power than the whole of Rhythm and Repose, an album sorely lacking in momentum.
Towards the end things begin to pick up considerably. The organ and plinking piano on ‘Races’ creates huge suspense, and Hansard’s singing is nestled perfectly between Irish folk and American country. It’s a big change from the story so far, finally offering not just a musical lift, but an emotional sea change. By the end of the song he’s managed to work in banjo and theremin, making this a truly unique and special part of the collection.
‘Philander’ is a sexy, moody track, sounding like a subdued Bond song and it’s great. The only weird thing about it is that it exists at the end of an album which appeared to have a narrative, so it seems like the story of the record ended rather abruptly with ‘Races’, and this may just be a song tacked on to the end. Regardless, it’s a damn good one.
The true closer is ‘Song of Good Hope’, which sounds promising but can be shrugged away, as is the problem with too great a part of this album.
It feels like a very safe release, or just unambitious. It’s pleasant enough to get by without alienating anyone, and yet the music is overdone in some places, as is Hansard’s delivery. There are moments when he breaks through and truly demands the listener’s attention, but they are too few and far between. It’s a good enough record overall, worth it for those moments alone, and fans should absolutely love it in spite of its flaws.
Release Date: June 15, 2012
Image Courtesy of Anti/Epitaph