4 out of 5
Label: TVT Records
Produced by: John Congleton, The Speekers
After the demise of my beloved Tripping Daisy, I felt like the world was gifting me with something special with the announcement that Tim Delaughter would be soldiering on as The Polyphonic Spree. I waited with baited breath for the release, for which I then had to scramble over to the shop across from my Tower Records (Other Music), and looked forward to getting home from work to toss the disc on.
Daisy being one of the first bands that I stayed current with through their releases (not discovering them after the fact), this was also one of my first big musical disappointments. I just really didn’t get Spree’s debut. The general arrangements were definitely Delaughter, and moments of the album stuck out, but the overbearing positivity and choral arrangements weren’t my bag, not to mention the half-hour chanty hidden track.
When the press caught wind, I was just sort if puzzled. Because of their main alterna-hit, I had so much trouble pitching latter-day Daisy genius to people, and now the next evolution of the band was getting attention but I wasn’t on board.
I was happy for them, but checked out. …Fragile Army caught my eye again, first because of John Congleton producing – his (in my opinion) best production efforts were for similarly layered bands, so it seemed like a good match – and second because of the group letting a little darkness in: Less 100% hippie-d tracks,; black outfits.
Sure enough, Fragile is a rollickingly effective listen, still booming with good vibes but a tad more well-rounded, with awesome percussion and a bevy of hits guiding you from start to finish. Some of the tracks do simply repeat the bright and shiny marching band template of their first hit, Soldier Girl, but they’re spread out at the beginning, middle and end of the album so things don’t get stale. And ushering us into the disc (after a short instrumental build-up) on such familiar footing with Running Away is a great way to crash through expectations, following it immediately with the aggressive Get Up And Go and the similarly enthused title track. We Crawl and Overblow Your Nest effectively blend the group’s softer side with the heft and lushness of their Fragile Army sound, while Mental Cabaret (having first appeared on the Wait EP) and Guaranteed Nightlite clearly expose the hooky pop backing that’s driving things, taking absolute advantage of the group’s full-voiced ensemble and matching it with an immediately toe-tapping riff for instantly memorable mini-masterpieces.
Having achieved what might be the zenith of the Spree sound, fully melding Tripping Daisy’s hooks with the Polyphonic all-hands-on approach, it would he a few years until we got another full album from the band. Thankfully, the material on Fragile Army is so meaty, it absolutely lasted the wait, and longer.