Chris Donaghey
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July 31, 2007
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The Polyphonic Spree
The Fragile Army

Even if you've never heard of the Polyphonic Spree, you have assuredly heard the descriptors of this Texas collective with anywhere from 14 to 27 members (currently 24, referred lovingly by this reviewer as a DeLaughter Dozen after their frontman). A massive pop gospel choir? A kitschy collective of cult members blessed with melodic chops? Who do you believe? Personally, after listening to their latest full-length, interestingly titled The Fragile Army, the only descriptor to adequately describe their sound that comes to mind is "overblown." Normally, that would only be taken as a blatant negative but in the context of what they're likely trying to accomplish, it is merely apropos. An extensive back history on the band or their previous catalog of releases are not needed to get the full experience because they deliver everything people know about them in the first two minutes of the album and never look back. The collective unleash every popular instrument available with reckless abandon, filling every nook and cranny with pummeling strength in numbers. Gently put, songs like "Running Away," "Get Up and Go" and "Watch Us Explode" do not so much build to a crescendo as open with a volcanic eruption and do their best to maintain tectonic force throughout. Obvious drawbacks to this approach arise - for instance, where do you go after turning it up to 11? - but these guys and gals do not seem to mind or turn back very often. It has its initial intrigue and kitsch value, but one inescapable fact arises over the length of this album: even though the music is Earth-shatteringly massive, the songwriting and melodies are relatively simple and do little to stimulate the listener. A considerable amount of the lines are open-ended, seemingly incongruent, and just plain tepid. The shock with The Fragile Army is that its at its best when the band tones it down a notch and merely uses the choral backing and only, say, two to five instruments to craft some excellent pop songs ("The Fragile Army" and "Light to Follow" are two of the best this band has released). Sadly, the plain and simple fact is that their best songs are signs that this band could do so much more with so many less individuals, less ridiculous hype and circumstance surrounding them as an idea and as a band, and more focus on being an above-average group rather than a trailblazing sea changer. Much has been made of the idea that this band has put forth their "darkest" release to date here but for the most part, they have merely let grime build up on their idea of a well-oiled machine.

Release date: June 19, 2007
Label: TVT Records
Rating: 6.0 / 10

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