3 out of 5
Label: Good Records
Produced by: David Wilson (recorded by)
The Polyphonic Spree just make sense as a covers band. They’ve done some covers before, and it’s been cute, and also kind of proven this concept: their choral shtick and unchallenging pop – not that there’s not inventiveness in the band’s songwriting, but it’s a generally accessible sound – are “fun” overlays to any given genre of music, like a hippy-dippy Richard Cheese act.
Afflatus, as a title for an all covers album, could be read a couple of ways: showing off the group’s inspirations, or hoping to inspire. Given that this was recorded during lockdown, and tends to veer toward more upbeat, hopeful selections, it may be a bit of both. And perhaps because of that, the album lands in a sort of mid-range of effectiveness, as the liner notes make clear Polyphonic were not out to rejigger these tunes, rather to truly cover them; along with the surely tense emotional state of the time, you can feel the half-step between celebration of wishful thinking of the production, lending the songs an undeniable pleasantness, but also a kind of “safety” in sticking to the exact script. Even if not knowing these originals – if you’re like me, you recognize the names, but not necessarily all the material – it still feels much the same, the group playing / singing in time to an unseen metronome.
But Polyphonic, even in their evolving nature, are a well-oiled machine: you will surely get a cute smile from those songs you do know, and can easily sing along with those you don’t. And if we assume this was recorded in order, it feels like the project finds its wings – no pun intended, as there’s a Wings track on here – about 2/3rds of the way through, the songs feeling more enlivened; more daring. As though the group was inspiring themselves to a better state of mind in the process.
That feeling makes worth traveling through Afflatus enjoyable, besides the fact that Spree’s buoyant sound and competence as a team of singers and players guarantees a certain level of entertainment and quality besides.