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tmim reviews: The Rip Tide, by Beirut

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Artist: Beirut
Release: The Rip Tide (LP, August 30, 2011)
Notable Tracks: “East Harlem,” “Payne’s Bay”
Recommendation: Dig deep, or pass

The Rip Tide is not a follow-up to The Flying Club Cup. It is not bombastic in its baroque. No tears will be shed. It is not an instant classic. It requires effort to appreciate, and some tracks simply do not work at all: even repeated listens do not reward the listener for the patience. In a word, it is pretty, not beautiful. Consider one of the conclusions of an overwhelmingly positive review: “It’s so light and airy that it could slip right by you.” (Under The Gun Reviews, July 11, 2011.)

Indeed, you could make a pretty strong case that The Rip Tide continues along the aesthetic arc set by March of the Zapotec & Realpeople: Holland, an album that received mixed reviews here, with Patrick listing it as the #6 album of 2009, while the present reviewer wrote, “The last five tracks shift gears altogether: Beirut fans can imagine a DJ spinning Gulag Orkestar on one turntable and BT on the other. Those unfamiliar with Beirut need not go there.”

Concluding: “The second act is a total loss.” Anyone here remember this:

Fans — that is to say true, unyielding fans — of the double EP will more than likely appreciate the upcoming album, set for an August release. “Santa Fe” seems to take Condon’s baritone crooning and brass ensemble back to the dance floor, even if the tempo is all wrong. The title track’s percussive click is downright annoying, introducing an unintended dose of Drum Machine 101 to an already wobbly song structure: too monochrome, too somnambulant, too uneventful. There are moments in which The Rip Tide sticks in the listener’s head in a decidedly unwelcome way, and this drowsy piece of non-composing is one of them. (It seems as if someone has been reading too many Beirut reviews. Just so we’re clear the next time around, journalists don’t use terms like “effortless” or “natural” literally.)

The album has its high points, to be sure: “East Harlem” shimmers with a quirky, uptempo light, even when the horns aren’t blowing. The poly-Condon choir dominating the last minute or so is a nice touch, but this comes nowhere close to the passion or gravity of “In The Mausoleum.” Or “St. Apollonia.” Or “The Flying Club Cup.” “The Peacock” very nearly earns its song title, what with its the-coffee’s-almost-ready warmth, gentle baritone breeze, and electric organ hum. But in time your favorite track might become “Payne’s Bay,” with its slicing string work and precise horn section. This is where vocalist Condon plants his flag, with the strength-in-repetition, almost hypnotic, “Headstrong, today, I’m feeling headstrong.” Cute little instrumental burp in the closing second, too.

If the over-40 set has learned anything from AOR, it’s that an album does not live or die on its radio edits. The three tracks lauded above constitute 11 minutes of material. Much more representative of The Rip Tide as a whole is the hollow opener “A Candle’s Fire,” which resembles a cardboard cut-out of the Beirut we thought would show up. The brass arrives on time, and the crooning does, as well as the snare drum love, but we’re none the wiser. This is not a lake, it’s a flooded parking lot. The cascading vocals of “Goshen” are a perfectly acceptable accompaniment for the piano and trumpet, while the catchy, snappy, black-key piano bar riff of “Vagabond” is similarly competent. Note that we just said competent, not inspired. This is the sound of a lesser artist ripping of Zach Condon…at his best.

And perhaps that is the crux of the matter. By this measure, an altogether negative review of The Rip Tide is unfair. If Condon had announced himself with The Rip Tide, we would declare him an artist with promise. “Good instincts.” “Shortlisted.” “The one to watch.” Instead, we know what kind of power he can wield when he allows himself, a fact that renders the forthcoming album a pretty serious disappointment. Nice closing track, though. (6/10)