Pete Yorn’s a grower, not a shower. As deceptively simple and catchy as his songs may be, it’s always taken me a long time to appreciate his albums. Only after a month or two of listening to each of his three previous studio efforts did I truly fall in love with the earnestness and murky studio nuances that elevate his music above the work of singer/songwriter peers like John Mayer. And while Back & Fourth is his most immediately accessible body of work since 2001’s Musicforthemorningafter, I’m hoping it will still grow on me a bit.
At a sparse ten songs, Back & Fourth is Yorn’s leanest album and his most sonically cohesive, two traits that end up both bolstering and hobbling the sound. Yorn settled in Omaha, Nebraska to record with producer Mike Mogis, and the dusky calm of the city shows in the music. Majestic pluckers like “Don’t Wanna Cry” and “Social Development Dance” are among some of the most beautiful cuts of Yorn’s career, and the musicbox tweak of Mogis’ horns is melodic without being overbearing. The album’s two strongest tracks, “Paradise Cove” and “Shotgun” cross pollinate this twinkling rustic beauty with the distorted, muddy ambiance that Yorn has made his trademark. He’s by no means “experimental” (these are, after all, straightforward pop rock songs) and and that’s what makes his work so likable. And it’s nice to hear him sound so centered on Back & Fourth, especially when listening to 2006’s Nightcrawler, which was often all over the place.
However, the mellowness of everything grows a bit weary on the ears. While there isn’t a single bad song on the album, there aren’t enough anthems to give it the road trip momentum of his earlier work. Granted, at thirteen plus tracks (as well as bonus material), all of his previous albums felt bloated, but they had a lot of kick. On Back & Fourth, the upbeat, moody chug of “Last Summer” and even the hill gazing acoustic roll of “Country” are a nice change of pace, but not quite enough to pick up the sluggish slack of such a short album, especially when sandwiched between strained snoozers “Close” and “Thinking Of You”, both of which are thankfully saved in the end by Mogis’ flourishing, mini-suite production touches.
The slowness wouldn’t be a problem if the lyrics were as detailed and internal as say, Nebraska, but as pretty as all of these tunes are, the words get a tad monotonous, even on the album’s best tracks. Yorn really tries in the storytelling department with the aforementioned “Social Development Dance”, which describes a fleeting relationship with a woman whom he later discovers died after their fling, but details like “I googled you in quotes, got no results” and “when we kissed, it was electric/chemists made us for each other” come off as a little hokey. There’s a fine line between Pete Yorn and Lifehouse, and on Back & Fourth, he comes dangerously close to crossing it.
But lucky for us, he doesn’t. Back & Fourth is still a solid, albeit sleepy album. Let’s just hope Yorn is a little more awake for the next one.
Back & Fourth