** (out of four)
Glen Hansard's richly emotional voice can bring tears to the eyes of even the grumpiest Grinch. From his work with Irish folk-rockers The Frames to his Swell Season pairing with Marketa Irglova, Hansard has never been afraid to lay himself open, raw and exposed. I would never describe “Once,” his 2007 movie with Irglova, as just a movie. It's a poem captured on film.
That's why I’m so confused by much of what's happening on "Rhythm and Repose." Instead of screaming, throbbing, hurting, living, loving at full throttle, Hansard is quiet and straightforward. This is music worked over on a calm afternoon with a cup of tea, not scrawled out over a bottle of whiskey.
It's not the emotions and subject matter that have changed on "Rhythm and Repose." Hansard's still mulling his relationships with the world and with women—he's even a little more hopeful this time around. Maybe he's been "kneeling in the dark for far too long," as he sings on "Bird of Sorrow," and decided to take things down a notch. But the best part of Hansard's performances is that he aches externally in a way so many people can connect with internally. I'm not sure the new look works for him.
On the album's laziest track, "Maybe Not Tonight," Hansard resorts to the massively simplistic, with lines like "Well I wanna do what's right/maybe not tonight" and "Maybe we should break those vows/maybe not right now" thudding along as he seemingly puts in as little vocal effort as possible. This is a seriously boring song.
Make no mistake, though—the guy is one majorly talented writer. Lines like "Love that's given freely doesn't die/It only changes" on "Talking with the Wolves,” and "Why must a man lose everything to find out what he wants?" on "High Hope" reveal truths most people only wish they could articulate. Complex backing instrumentals later in the album also help to underscore the power of his voice and add a little more depth of character.
It's the rare occasions when Hansard lets the anguish rise, like on "High Hope" and the album's best, "Bird of Sorrow," that he comes back to form. But it's something that's sorely missing for most of the album. I didn't come here to listen to a guy pluck at his guitar like it's a random Tuesday at a coffee shop. I came to be moved.
IN CONCERT: June 26 at the Vic
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