Andrew Bird’s latest album My Finest Work Yet is a strong statement about today’s world. His twelfth solo album after 2017’s Echolocations: River, his latest album steers towards political and social issues such as war and environmental degradation. Bird dives right into his perspective through his lyricism and arrangements, and he rewards his listeners with a subtle and intellectual record.
The album starts out with “Sisyphus,” a reference to the mythological Greek king who was doomed to push a boulder up a hill; however, once the boulder was near the top, it would roll back down, forcing him in an endless loop for an eternity. An anthem of sorts, “Sisyphus” explores the idea of the speaker taking control of their life and letting go of the mundane task since “it’s got nothing to do with fate / and everything to do with you.” With Birds’ signature whistling and folk sensibilities, the song creates an atmosphere indie-style empowerment that challenges authority and fate.
“Bloodless,” the second track on the album, is perhaps the grooviest and overtly political track on the entire album. With a steady beat, hypnotic bassline, and beautiful use of piano, “Bloodless” explores the topic of war and how “it’s hard to be an optimist / when you trust least the ones who claim to have the answers.” The allusions, for example, to the DMZ and Spanish Revolution of 1936 juxtapose with the bridge’s “it’s an uncivil war” and pre-chorus’ “bloodless for now,” which signify a simmering tension that would lead to a bloody war. However, there is some hope since the lyrics suggests that listener should “turn around and quote a well known psalm…/ while the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.” Smoothly produced and deep lyrics, “Bloodless” is perhaps the best song on the entire album.
The third track is “Olympians” is an exploration into addiction. Starting out with a violin riff played pizzicato which leads to an explosive post-chorus, “Olympians” provides listeners with another song about hope. Although the lyrics discuss about a person who’s “stumbling into the light / of medicine cabinets” and “spitting out anathemas,” there’s an optimism that arises since the speaker says that “we’re gonna turn it around.” Tight production and lyrics make “Olympians” a solid cut.
Leading “Olympians” is “Cracking Codes,” a wonderful ballad with a exquisitely arranged complete with a piano arrangement and stunning harmonies. A love song under the guise of a Cold War-esque spy thriller (“You don’t need a secret code / no need to play at spies”), “Cracking Codes’” simplicity produces a number of emotions within the listener in over three minutes and leaves a lasting impression on the listener. Tight and gorgeous, this is perhaps another of the best songs on the album.
Perhaps Bird’s most disjointed song on the entire album, “Fallorun” (a play on “fall or run”) is another masterfully arranged cut complete with distorted violin. Although musically there are no problems, the lyrics are a bit clichéd with lines such as “We could have been together / But you couldn’t stand the weather here” and forced rhymes such as “We could have been together / But you traded hell for leather.” A song about jealousy, possession, and/or actually trying to save someone, the song is quite ambiguous though it may be on purpose; however, if Bird had focused one trait, “Fallorun” would be a much more compelling and consistent song.
Another political song, “Archipelago,” takes a look at the idea of an communal Eden without environmental degradation (“leave us naked, fleeced and racked with sobs”) nuclear annihilation (a reference to Bikini Atoll with the line “this ain’t no archipelago, no remote atoll), destruction (“a three-headed monster swallows Tokyo”—Ghirdorah!), and most importantly peace. From its ethereal violin work and sublime, poetic lyrics, Bird gives listeners another view of paradise where “all our cries were cried / [and] now there are no sides.” Again, there’s a sense of hope within the since “our enemies are what make us whole. A high bar to achieve, “Archipelago” is a 2019 indie-version of Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Just like “Fallorun,” “Proxy Run” has great arrangement and production (particularly with how the violin manages to sound like a brass section!), but the song suffers from poor lyricism. Although it is simple and talks about how people “don’t have to get over him/her” and the ideas of trying to forget with “you don’t have to remember / we forget what memories are for,” it does not have the emotional impact like “Cracking Codes.” Unfortunately, this makes it the weakest song on the entire album.
One of the most interesting songs on the entire album, “Manifest” masterfully discusses the idea about freedom through a metaphor that I can assume is about fossil (“For everything that’s walked this Earth once living / then to be exhumed and burned to vapor”). Simply structured complete with a duet in the pre-chorus and filled with joyous emancipation, never have I heard such a wonderfully weird and lyrically unique—another great cut.
The album then leads into “Don the Struggle,” the most dynamic songs in the entire album. Starting with a slow, thumping beat, the song suddenly changes into a fast paced tempo and then back to its steady beat. Lyrically, the song takes a look at how the mistakes of a generation can future generation everything with lines such as “And it’s the young ones that I fear for / forgive us, we know not what we’ve done.” Catchy. Fun. Alluring. And there’s a violin solo!
The album closes with the song “Bellevue Bridge Club,” a song about the psych ward at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Written in the perspectives of a medical worker at the facility, the lyrics delve into the depravity that occured at the hospital shown especially in lines such as “I will exploit you / then conscript you” and “I’m gonna drag you from your bed onto your floor / By any means necessary.” Juxtapose the lyrics with music that seems uplifting, the song becomes elevated to a satire filled with humor and shock. With “Bloodless,” “Bellevue Bridge Club” is one of the best cuts on the album.
Is this really Bird’s finest work yet? Is beauty subjective or objective? Do we have free will? Is life a dream? What’s the meaning of life? Will I get an “A” in the class I’m currently failing? Hopefully, with his next album, Bird goes all out with his political and social views and answer every question I’ve asked in this review. But, My Finest Work Yet is a great addition to Bird’s diverse discography.
Album Rating: 8 Ghirdorahs out of 10
Recommended Tracks: “Sisyphus,” “Bloodless,” “Olympians,” “Cracking Codes,” “Archipelago,” “Manifest,” “Don the Struggle,” “Bellevue Bridge Club”
Album Review By: William Pagdatoon