Listen Up: Wednesday, September 17, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
The New Pornographers

Electric Version (Matador Records)

By Matthew Smith

Neko Case is such a genuine talent that it’s hard to imagine her remaining unknown for much longer, even given today’s cockeyed music biz.

She started out by playing the drums — for a punk band, then for a not-so-punk band. Once on her own, she released country records that can melt the heart, regardless of whether you love or hate that stuff. It also doesn’t hurt that she has one of the best voices out there.

The New Pornographers are a side project consisting of Case and Canadian musicians from several bands. Not in the least country, their debut, Mass Romantic, was a power-pop masterwork, all Beatley and Cheap Trick-y and Big Star-y sounding. Robust stuff, it recalled radio’s glory days and showed up on a lot of best-of-year lists. Case then downshifted to alt-country again and released Blacklisted, one of last year’s true gems.

All of which left those in the know with high hopes for the Pornographer’s sophomore go around. Sadly, Electric Version is merely passable, unmemorable pop. That it bests most of what’s currently out just isn’t enough, given the talents involved here. Certainly there’s nothing on par with Romantic’s instantly catchy moments, such as the divine should-have-been-massive “Letter From An Occupant.”

Worse, Case figures prominently only on a few cuts. (It may not be fair, but, talented and important as the rest are, Case is the draw here.) Still, “The Electric Version” sticks out by ably wedding ’80s new wave to ’60s AM pop. “All For Swinging You Around” and “The Laws Have Changed” (sung by Case, natch) are slightly heavenly. Well, maybe everyone involved was too caught up in his or her regular gig to give full attention this time out.

Too bad. Give Electric Version a B- for effort. Case’s swelling fan base will want to hear it just because — but even they may find it lacking. Everybody else is advised to pick up Mass Romantic or Case’s solo outings instead to discover what all the fuss is about.


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