Album Review: Beirut – The Rip Tide
Beirut (aka Zack Condon) is quite the peculiarity. His song writing technique is tantamount to musical colonialism (with all the positive and negative connotations involved) as he claims and manipulates great swathes of sovereign musical territory, and bedecks them with layers of semi-operatic baritone. On Gulag Orkestar he gobbled up much of Eastern Europe; on The Flying Club Cup France was devoured and on March of the Zapotec Mexico was also annexed…
Condon’s ability to play every instrument on the album is commonly cited as the unique selling point, but in reality it is his manipulation of melody that sets him apart and above every other musician out there (to my knowledge). I defy anyone to listen to ‘Postcards From Italy’, ‘Nantes’, ‘My Night With The Prostitute From Marseilles’, for instance, without weeping at the overwhelming beauty of his creation – the latter in particular puts the lie to those who say that he does little more than steal music from underexposed cultures and present it to an audience that knows no better.
That’s not to say that he is without flaws, there are many – his greatest weakness is a lack of restraint. Condon has a tendency to over-layer his music with both too many instruments and too many vocal tracks leaving “dead zones” in certain parts of his albums. Listening to an LP in one sitting is a bit like eating at The Heart Attack Grill, impossible and dangerously filling: http://www.heartattackgrill.com/. All of which does not detract from the fact that certain tracks are the best things to come out in my lifetime.
The question remains: which country/region is next on the menu? On first listen The Rip Tide comes across as a laborious rehash of all Beirut’s previous albums combined, but in fact something else is happening here. Condon has stopped travelling and is concentrating on purifying his art, and in doing so has finally learned restraint. This transnational paint palette is a less colourful more plaintive affair, and it is this new found restraint that gives Condon’s natural talent the chance to breathe. East Harlem slowly and peacefully flourishes as does ‘Vagabond’. ‘The Peacock’, where horns flat line in single note layers, is Beirut’s version of David Sylvian’s ‘Let The Happiness In’ – though I doubt he has heard of the former Japan frontman.
On the other hand, it leaves the feeling that Condon has run out of inspiration and is resting too much on his laurels. Though certainly enjoyable, ‘A Candle’s Fire’ sounds like a lesser version of the best stuff from The Flying Club Cup, and ‘Sante Fe’, a less satisfying version of ‘Scenic World’ from The Gulag Orkestar.
But as with any Beirut album there are moments of transcendental beauty, and here it is the title-track with its elegiac, exotic arrangements that send a warming light over everything else, washing away that latent feeling of disappointment. And even that feeling is misguiding. Condon has obviously made a colossal effort to tone down some of his more garish traits, which makes The Rip Tide less instantaneous than previous efforts, and even if it lacks the quality of tracks like ‘Nantes’ and ‘Postcard From Italy’, it is also Beirut’s most consistent effort.
Release Date 29/08/2011 (Pompeii)