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The New Pornographers: Challengers

The New Pornographers: Challengers

Release Date:2007

By Allison Levin | Posted 9/12/2007

The New Pornographers are still here with Challengers--somewhere. They haven't changed--that much. The joyfully erratic sounds present in their earlier Mass Romantic, Electric Version, and, to some degree, Twin Cinema are, on first listen, surprisingly absent. "My Rights Versus Yours," Challengers' opener, builds up slowly and quietly to something a little less slow and quiet. At its peak, however, it's hardly the climax found in earlier songs like "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism."

Challengers begins to find its footing after its title track. "Myriad Harbor," an ode to city life that is both catchy and interesting, appears more than 10 minutes into the album. Singers Neko Case and A.C. Newman trade off spoken sentences that fracture into musical hooks, ending with an unexpected twist: "Someone somewhere asked me, `Is there anything in particular I can help you with?'/ All I ever wanted help with was you."

"All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth" is more uptempo, a return to Electric Version songwriting, including the drum opening. Unfortunately, "Unguided" and "Failsafe" merely plod along, the latter for more than six minutes. It isn't until the vulnerable and beautiful "Go Places" that Challengers again commands attention. "Mutiny, I Promise You" opens brightly, and remains solid throughout, and that in combination with "The Spirit of Giving" allows the album to finish much stronger than it began.

Challengers, like that rotisserie-chicken cooker advertised on late-night infomercials, is something you can set and forget, press play, and let fade into the background. Nothing surprises, and nothing makes you sit up and pay attention either. A band with such an impressive catalog and so much talent can do better.

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