El-Vy ‘Return to the Moon’ – Review

6 Dec

‘Return to the Moon’, the side project of The National’s Matt Berninger and Brent Knompf, Is a missed opportunity. Berninger has made a career out of his own unique brand of miserablism and this El-vy album could have been a chance for him to do something totally different, freed of his band’s self imposed stylistic restrictions. Instead, the record retreads lyrical ideas already explored to death on previous National albums, with melodies that feel gratingly familiar. They rub up awkwardly against mawkish synth lines and dull arrangements that are dragged out at a tiresome pace.

The band’s name, album’s title and sometimes wacky lyrics lend ‘return to the Moon’ the air of a light hearted pop throwaway, but it doesn’t feel like that after fifty minutes in its company. You can hear joyous possibility in the title track’s funky baseline and ‘I’m the man to be’s wisecracks but these are nothing more than red herrings. El-vy take themselves far too seriously and this is ultimately the product of two über-serious middle aged men.

Matt Berninger is a charismatic frontman, brilliant songwriter and the finest American lyricist of his generation but ‘Return to the Moon’ reveals his limitations. Of course this isn’t a complete write off – he is far too talented for that – and In many ways ‘Return the Moon’ poses a lot of interesting ‘what could have been’ questions. It is for example Berginger’s most autobiographical record to date and you wonder what might have happened if he’d run even further with this concept. On the revealing ‘Paul is Alive’ he sings about his mother and a youth spent ‘crying in my 7up’. It is a moving portrait of growing up. There are other reasons to give ‘Return the Moon’ a chance; ‘I’m the Man to Be’ is funny, ‘Need a Friend’ is revealing and ‘No time to Crank the Sun’ is beautiful – moments of muted brilliance on an otherwise grey and mundane vanity project. It could and should be so much more.

5/10

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