On Further Review
By Julie Stoller
Alex Ebert, lead singer, guitarist and front-man of the traveling hippie carnival that is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, wants you to believe he is a true believer. He made it through an addiction and 12-step program, and then met fellow vocalist, guitarist and comrade Jade Castrinos. Together they put together the 10+ friends who would roam the world, spreading a ‘60s vibe and timeless message of peace and understanding with youthful reckless abandon.
This time out for their new album, Here, repeats the songwriter's pursuit of Love and Forgiveness. Ebert's messianic prophet persona persists - a near-religious fervor permeates - and the listener is continually left to juggle whether his blind devotion is for God or the easy love of another. It’s in the gospel chorus and somber Johnny Cash delivery in songs like “Man On Fire,” though tempered by skepticism from a man still searching for unwavering faith (“Beyond the drunken focus of my aim / All my heroes twisting in the flame / Let’s let it all wash out in the rain” – All Wash Out). The one thing of which Ebert has no doubt is in the enduring power and importance of love, both as a shining beacon in the storm, and of one’s spiritual calling.
Sara Gaechter photograph
“Man On Fire” opens in a hushed, reverent tone, slowly building into a full-on southern gospel belter of salvation (“Come dance with me / over murder and pain / come and set you free / over heartache and shame”). Ebert (or his alter-ego Edward Sharpe, the wayward but well-meaning messiah) appeals to everyone to leave their comfortable prisons and follow him – to where, it’s not exactly clear (“Everybody want safety (safety love) / Everybody want comfort (comfort love) / Everybody want certain (certain love) / Everybody but me”).
“That’s What’s Up” would be ridiculously corny (“you be the book / I’ll be the binding / you be the words / I’ll be the rhyming”), were it not for the sheer exuberance and sense of purpose in the delivery. This is another song heavily infused with The Spirit. The Tin Pan Alley instrumental break, rather than adding to the goofiness, gives it a sweet charm. This is the first, and not last, song that preaches love as the answer, and all that matters (“love is our shelter / love is our cause”).
Though richly overflowing in hippie hoedown atmosphere, the serious take-away from this album is in the song “I Don’t Wanna Pray” – “Pardon god and mom / what I’m sayin’ isn’t fair / See I’m looking to become / not the prayer but the prayer.” With a delightful banjo-driven old timey groove, it speaks of a move away from the teachings and religious dogma into actually walking the talk. “Mayla” is a prayer in song, with cascading strings and a richly resonant chorus. It’s incredibly pretty, with its brief bursts of horns and smooth flow.
MORE OF THE SAME - Messages of spiritual yearning and ‘love thy neighbor’ proselytizing aside, this is a fun musical romp. Everyone in this sunny California hippie commune picks up an instrument and plays along, banging on tree stumps, clapping hands, and occasionally, as in “Dear Believer,” briefly reaching to orchestral heights.
Jade takes over with some powerful lead vocals for “Fiya Wata,” as the band further expounds the virtues of love and faith, with common and almost clichéd metaphors of shining sun, turning tide, and flowing river. Once again, the repetition of the message and simplicity of its delivery might have ‘sunk the ship,’ but the swaying rhythm and gradual build-up to arm-waving revivalist ecstasy saves this uplifting number to the point of nearly making it one of the stand-out tracks on the album.
AN EXERCISE IN REVIVAL - In Here, there’s a yearning for the quiet wisdom of such masters as Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan – and I’ll add to that list Bob Marley, whose enduring spirit they channel in “One Love to Another.” It’s a type of faith not gleaned from books and preachers, but hard-won from living life to its fullest. As for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, they’re young yet, and there’s still a lot of soul-searching to do.
VERDICT - A FUN ALBUM, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE EXPLORING THEMES.