You In Reverse is Built To Spill’s first album without producer Phil Ek since before their 1994 masterpiece There’s Nothing Wrong With Love. Ek has long played Brian Eno to frontman Doug Martsch’s David Byrne, and he’s the perfect conduit for both Martsch’s mastery of the four-chord pop song and guitar solo indulgence. It’s unclear whether Ek was shown the door after helming Built To Spill’s weakest album to date, 2001’s Ancient Melodies Of The Future, or whether the departure was convivial, but without Ek’s second opinion, the results of You In Reverse are mixed; some tracks rule and some tracks drool.
The album’s opener, “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” is a nearly nine-minute-long sprawl of Martsch at the top of his game as a vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist. The song’s rhythm tracks act as a hypnotic punk-rock metronome for the dull roar of the guitar solos; snare drums pop feverishly under the same two bass notes played ad infinitum. And after all these years, Martsch’s pensive tenor is as nice a fit as ever for the band’s raucous fuzz. Seriously, how many songs appeal to both indie rock and MySpace loving dorks and the guys who give guitar lessons in the stockrooms of music stores?
If only the whole record were up-tempo. Alas, just a few too many of the songs vainly attempt to revisit the brooding balladry of 1997’s Perfect From Now On. But without both a) the epic soundscapes choreographed by producer Phil Ek and b) pathos, songs like “Gone” and “Just A Habit” will bore even those of us who love the 20-minute jams on 2000’s Live. In addition to Martsch, You In Reverse features guitar work from Jim Roth and Brett Netson, and apparently none of these three axe-sters have ever heard a guitar pedal they didn’t love.
But all is not dirge and wankery. “Wherever You Go” boasts a riff that gives “Cowgirl In The Sand” a run for its money—Built To Spill always was the poor man’s Crazy Horse—and the slow-dance closer “The Wait” thankfully concludes with an irresistible Fender Strat crunch. “Some things never change,” sings Martsch on the single “Conventional Wisdom,” right before the guitarists kick into a noodling battle that would not have been out of place on the band’s first album. Friends of Built To Spill, both old and new, I urge you to follow my lead and take comfort in the familiar.