A Different Ship, the band's third album, makes a go of turning the anxiety of non-commitment into its own kind of commitment. One song is called "How Do I Know"; another is called "Make Up Your Mind". The first line Temple sings is, "It's hard sometimes to be close," and throughout, he makes an effort to keep his distance. He hums, he floats, he glides politely over the mix. The band splits its time between airy ballads and dry, hypercaffeinated stuff built from layers of interwoven guitars and synths-- music that creates a revisionist history of the 1980s where tightly-wound bands like the Feelies and Devo cohabitate with yacht rock. The title track alone may herald some kind of subterranean Sting renaissance.
It's an impeccably polished and careful record. But like a shirt buttoned all the way up to the neck, sophistication can wear a guy out. Whatever rough edges the band naturally cultivated on their first two albums have been neatly shaved off and sanded down with the help of producer Nigel Godrich, who makes everything sound vacuum-packed and expensive. Thinking about Godrich inevitably makes me think about Radiohead. The creeping irony of "Everything in Its Right Place" is that it sounded like something, somewhere, was desperately wrong. The paradox here is that the band pretends at anxiety in a way that seems perfectly comfortable. It's George Clooney playing Woody Allen. PF