ballboy – The Royal Theatre

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

I suspect I will return to this point more than once during this project, but I like it when bands focus on doing what they are good at. For the most part, I don’t want bands to evolve or experiment. Rancid, for example, should sound like Rancid, and I do not wish to hear them try to be the Go-Betweens. And Uncle Tupelo should not be New Order. And the Jesus and Mary Chain should keep any intentions of being the Specials locked away in a Glasgow basement. This is, in fact, why different bands exist, and why I like different bands – each one fulfills a different role. So the fact that this fourth album finds ballboy doing basically the same things is good news, as far as I am concerned. Give me what I want – keep making the music that made me like you in the first instance. Lord knows, you can’t rely on anything else in life like that.

What I Think of This Album

Sadly, keyboard ace Kate Griffiths departed before this album and her replacement, Alexa Morrison, does an adequate but less showy job filling in. The slicker production might contribute to that feeling, as it tends to muffle things and robs the band of some of their scruffy charm; also, it is arguable that McIntyre is a bit more mopey than usual this time around. That said, there are once again some excellent songs here.

“Let’s Fall In Love and Run Away From Here” is not one of them, though, as it ultimately founders on a cheap late reveal and the overwhelming self-pity of the narrator, which the energetic backing can’t surmount. On the other hand, “I Don’t Have Time to Stand Here With You Fighting About the Size of My Dick” is a compelling tale of a wounded criminal (with shades of Leonard Cohen’s “The Partisan,” (itself a cover, actually, with a complicated history), who makes a strong case for why he is too busy to engage in the titular back-and-forth.

“The Art of Kissing” is a cynical unmasking by the lover of one half of an infelicitous couple (“And now you’ve forgotten everything / Except the things that cause you pain / And now you’ll never be young again”), with a nice keyboard hook. There is drama and majesty to spare in the grand “There Are Only Inches Between Us, But There Might As Well Be Mountains and Trees,” and it constitutes a peak right in the middle of the album with the next track, the sweet “We Are Past Our Dancing Days,” on which McIntyre plays it mostly straight, with gentle violin strains underscoring the tender sentiments. There is more unabashed romanticism on “I Died for Love,” even as McIntyre cruelly tosses out the rejoinder “well, doesn’t everyone.”

The downcast but uptempo “The Time Out Guide” is morbid fun, and the band kicks up an enjoyable ruckus on the epic “The Ghosts of New Orleans,” (with the great Louisiana Voodoo-referencing line “the chicken feathers on the floor / Foretold all this and much much more”) and McIntyre even holds out notes in an approximation of singing. He dials up the sentimentalism once again on the courtly “Shallow Footprints In the Snow.” Ironically, “Now You Can Be Good to Yourself” is filler which very much borrows a Jesus and Mary Chain melody (and distorted guitar sound), and makes for a disappointing closer. Overall, this is a strong album which is not as fun as the earlier ones, but also features a surprisingly strong batch of quiet songs, proving that Sash was no fluke.

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Ghosts of New Orleans” pushes the boundaries of what ballboy normally does while still sounding like ballboy. This is one kind of artistic evolution I can get behind.

Release Date

2004

The Cover Art

Almost there. Certainly, it’s an improvement over the previous covers, but it still falls short. The photo is okay, but it has too much white space and is a little washed out, and while I like the vertical lines (are they a little Photoshop-y? I can live with it), the text box is horrible and the bar code is a war crime.

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