Little introduction is needed for Adam Young’s wildly successful synthpop act, Owl City. With some of the most atypically creative music the pop scene has experienced in quite some time—along with the most imaginative and positive spirit one could ask for—it was pretty hard to ignore. On top of this, his major label debut, Ocean Eyes, went platinum in almost no time at all, and its lead single “Fireflies” unexpectedly took the radio by storm that same year. Now, a full two years later, Owl City makes his much-anticipated sophomore return with All Things Bright And Beautiful.
To start, let me just say that I had very high expectations for this album. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything Owl City has done in the past, including all of his independent releases. Until now, there wasn’t anything that I didn’t completely love about Owl City. Granted, I appreciate Young trying different things and attempting to do something new, but in many cases it just didn’t work for me. This record is just so diverse that there’s sure to be at least a few songs that people aren’t going to love, and unfortunately comes with a few disappointments.
It starts with “The Real World,” a dreamy track that sounds like classic Owl City at its best, an obvious standout track. It fits in great with all of his older work, while at the same time keeping things fresh and different… which would be fantastic had the rest of the album been similar. From there, however, we begin to see a few bigger differences. The following song, “Deer In The Headlights,” still uses quite a few synths, but with more of an emphasis on the “pop” sound. Young said prior to the album’s release that it would have quite a bit more guitar, and it shows a lot throughout the album. It’s not so drastic that it feels like a departure from the synthpop sound we all love, but it’s different enough that it waters it down some, sadly. So there’s one negative difference.
The third track, “Angels,” shows even more of a difference, both musically and lyrically. The start has Young yelling “Wake me if you’re out there!” which he also does several other times over the course of four minutes. It’s not the Adam Young we’re used to, and might take a while to adjust yourself to. Even though it does sound somewhat awkward at first, it seems that Young’s vocals have matured a bit since last time, which is good. “Kamikaze,” on the other hand, also has similar “yelling” vocals, and happens to be the most unusual track on the album. I think most will find it to be a little overly weird… I’ll be skipping it often, that’s for sure.
Lyrically, Young shows a lot more of his faith and spirituality than on any previous albums, both on “Angels” and a number of other songs. On this particular track, it’s clear in the lines, “I keep my knees black and blue ‘cause they often hit the hardwood floor/ And I believe so I’m not praying to the ceiling anymore,” that he’s not afraid to sing about his faith. Because of this, many of the lyrics are unfortunately not quite as imaginative or profoundly metaphorical as most of his past work, but it’s hard to criticize when it’s evident how shamelessly passionate he is for God. Still… another change.
“Dreams Don’t Turn To Dust” reveals even more of a sound change, this time with a touch of hip-hop to it in the verses. He doesn’t all-out rap, but for those familiar with tobyMac, he sounds kind of like that—sort of a combination of singing and rapping with a hip-hop beat to it. “Kamikaze” also shows similar hip-hop influences, although less in the vocals and more in the music. And then, of course, there’s “Alligator Sky.” This song even features a hip-hop artist named Shawn Crystopher doing guest vocals. I mean, I understand changing your sound as an artist, but mingling in different genres? That is a dangerous thing. Personally, I’m not a fan of the hip-hop genre, so this is a bit of a turn-off for me, especially with it being emphasized on three out of the twelve tracks on the album.
Another thing I found disappointing was how similar a few songs sound to “Cave In” from his last album. “Yacht Club” is one of the best on the album, but it suffers musically because of this. I’ve heard that Young had nearly ninety different mixes before reaching the final mix for “Cave In,” and it feels almost as if he’s recycling some of those in his new songs. I may be wrong about this, but if so… that seems cheap. It’s obvious that this is the case with the iTunes bonus track “How I Became The Sea,” which, again, is a fantastic track. But when listening to the end of “Cave In” immediately following the end of this song, they sound nearly identical. It’s a shame, really.
All of this isn’t to say that the album isn’t without a few gems. “The Real World” and “Deer In The Headlights” are obvious favorites, as well as “Honey And The Bee,” “Galaxies,” “The Yacht Club,” and “Plant Life,” which features guest vocals from none other than Matt Thiessen of Relient K. Some fans might recognize the track, “January 28, 1986,” from seeing Owl City live. It features a snippet of a speech Ronald Reagan gave after the Challenger space shuttle disaster, which Young used to play before leading into “Meteor Shower” at his concerts. On ATBAB, this track leads perfectly into “Galaxies,” which has some of the best music this album has to offer.
So even though change can be a good thing for an artist, I don’t think always a good thing for an artist who’s reached near-perfection in the past. Even though I applaud Young for not remaining stagnant with his music, I wish he could’ve achieved this in some other way. All Things Bright And Beautiful is a diverse album that may be a little hard for some fans to swallow, and with only a few standouts here and there, I think I’ll be skipping around some. Owl City has a long career ahead of him, and I just know he’ll be back with something to blow us away again.
[ 3.0 / 5.0 ]