The Polyphonic Spree's first album, The Beginning Stages of ..., was a demo recorded in a few days and eventually released by Hollywood Records. As an album, it's slapdash and scattered, with a lot of instrumental throat-clearing that stretches into tedium. And as Tim DeLaughter's be-robed gang rose to critical darling status with their exhilarating live shows, the disappointing record gave the impression that the Polyphonic Spree was essentially a spectacle, something you'd have to see (or drop acid) to understand. Together We're Heavy goes a long way toward dispelling that. Produced by Eric Drew Feldman (a multi-instrumentalist who has played on albums for Captain Beefheart and Frank Black), it's a solid album, full of the kind of deft production, rich orchestration and inspirational lyrics that made the Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin a modern-day classic of glistening pop psychedelia. The album opens with "A Long Day Continues/We Sound Amazed," which blows in with a whisper and builds into an eight-minute mini-sonata, climaxing halfway through with the chorus crying, "Take them all together and shove 'em off!" Whereas past Spree songs have petered into redundancy--"Hey, it's the sun/And it makes me shine" (repeat, repeat)--Together We're Heavy has an epic quality, with interludes and lovely instrumentals, constantly switching moods and streams but remaining of a piece. "Hold Me Now" is their best single so far, starting with a plunky piano and bursting into a thrilling little sing-along with blasting horns and cymbal crashes. It's not clear that Together We're Heavy will convert any nonbelievers; it's still full of the same dippy, earth-mother philosophy that turned off so many in the first place. But with their second album, the Spree has proved they are much more than a gimmick; they're a sonically mature band making compelling music. And at a time when it's tough to keep the Kills, the Thrills, the Killers and the Kicks straight, they are true originals.
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