A sea of love, then a hot mess

You won't mistake them for anyone else - it could be their particular vocal delivery, unusual wordplay or that cavalier spirit in the air.

This is what one associates with unique artists such as Regina Spektor, Bjork and, yes, the multiinstrumentalist Andrew Bird from Lake Forest, Illinois.

On his 13th album Are You Serious, Bird's avian quality comes through. The peripatetic musician still flits from branch to branch, but there's a new roosting predisposition.

"I'm more interested in plainspoken songwriting," he quips in a recent interview, well said indeed for a 42-year-old man who has released his first album since getting married and having a son.

Nonetheless, the album title track - without the all-important question mark - is intriguingly ambivalent, a declarative rather than an interrogative.

It's his most straightforward confession, albeit baste in a melody with a violin which sounds strangely like a whistle (or is that his whistling?).



    Andrew Bird

    Loma Vista

    4/5 stars

"I always was the one/You thought would never marry," he sings over slinky strings, before taking a jab at his own reputation. "Used to be wilfully obtuse/(or is the word abstruse?)/Semantics like a noose/Get out your dictionaries," is the next line, only to be undercut by a declaration: "I'm gonna cut to the quick/This is all non-fiction."

Naturally, his idea of non-fiction is miles more literary than your average Donald Trump speech. On Saints Preservus, a spiritual dirge, he imagines himself as a disciple stranded in LaLa Land, flipping a famous line from Amazing Grace: "I once was found/But now I'm lost."

On one hand, marriage and fatherhood have grounded him and clarified his priorities in life. On the other, they have sensitised him to mortality and life's cruelest jokes.

One moment, he revels in the sea of love in a duet with the reliable Fiona Apple, singing, "How did I ever find you, drifting gently through the gyre of the great Sargasso Sea?"

And in the next, he is a hot mess. In The New Saint Jude, a song flecked with Western African rhythms, he pinpoints the constant inner turmoil when one is in love and hankering for the Significant Other. "Ever since I gave up hope, I've been feeling so much better" is one oxymoronic sentiment.

He even ventures into epic space-rock bombast with Valleys Of The Young, a doozy about the tears and fears of parenthood. "Do you need a reason we should commit treason/And bring into this world a son?" begins the song, as drums pound and guitars ring like conscience.

"Your friends will become strange to you/Just as you will become strange to them," he sings, every word cutting into him as the realisation dawns .

"Our hearts are constantly breaking/From their cradle to our grave/Is it selfish?/Is it brave?" he asks, terribly wrecked. An essential record for parents, children and lovers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'A sea of love, then a hot mess'. Print Edition | Subscribe