Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Polyphonic Spree, The Fragile Army (Warner Bros.)

Texas big love cult is still guided by voices
Up to 27 members strong, the sprawling collective known as the Polyphonic Spree has blazed a singular path through the recent musical landscape. Emerging from the ashes of Tripping Daisy in Dallas, Texas, the band was formed by singer/conceptualist Tim DeLaughter and his wife, Julie Doyle. Outfitted in matching robes, the large symphonic sound produced by so many people on stage (including a 10-person choir) turned them into concert favorites, attracting hordes of fans to their "Up With People" perspective. But the band's unorthodoxy has also been a hindrance, from the impracticality of touring to accusations of contrivance.

For their third full-length release, DeLaughter and company face the reality of the modern world with their brightly-colored robes replaced by matching black uniforms emblazoned with hearts and crosses. The Fragile Army finds the Polyphonic Spree still preaching the power of the positive ("Running Away"), set to grand, orchestral productions that recall the Fifth Dimension if they'd been produced by Electric Light Orchestra's Jeff Lynne. They pull out a few new tricks, like the clunky disco of "Mental Cabaret," which plays like the Go! Team covering the Brady Bunch's "Sunshine Day."

At times reminiscent of an even more zealous Flaming Lips (thanks to DeLaughter's yelping voice and vocal inflections similar to the Lips' Wayne Coyne), grandiose productions like "Guaranteed Nitelite" bring the album to an emotional peak before down-shifting into the minimal electro swing of "Light To Follow." It gets even more interesting with the urgent piano crescendos of "Watch Us Explode (Justify)," and the Bowie-esque emoting of "Overblow Your Nest."

Ending the album on the galloping exuberance of "The Championship" keeps the Polyphonic Spree's M.O. intact: Big productions, big ideas, big sounds, and big big love.