The songs Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova crafted for Once resonated because they tapped into universal tropes of love and regret while sidestepping corny sentiment. They were simple without being dull, straightforward without being rote. The same can’t be said for Hansard’s new EP, Drive All Night, an unfortunately sleepy, forgettable release composed of songs featuring down-on-their-luck subjects hoping to find redemption in love.
It’s a formula Hansard’s explored with success on tracks like “Falling Slowly” and “When You’re Mind’s Made Up,” where his voice, pushed to the point of cracking, evokes vulnerability and longing. On Drive All Night, though, Hansard merely delivers overly earnest couplets loaded with stale imagery. On “Pennies in the Fountain,” he laments the fleeting nature of romance and the seemingly inevitable deterioration of relationships, but the lyrics are boilerplate, with tired images of youthful naïveté like “laying in the tall grass” and “holding on to love”—disappointing coming from a songwriter who’s proven he knows how to pull heartstrings while at the same time avoiding cliché.
“Renata” is livelier, moving away from the quiet, dull introspection of “Pennies in the Fountain,” its electric piano and strings building to a swirling cacophony reminiscent of Moondance-era Van Morrison. But the fact that the song boasts such energy only renders closing track “Step Out of the Shadows,” an a cappella hymnal of sorts filled with images of redemption like “silent rivers” and people moving from darkness into light, feel more mundane.
While much of Drive All Night struggles to say anything new or interesting about well-worn themes like regret and companionship, a cover of the Bruce Springsteen song that gives the EP its name proves to be a lone emotionally satisfying highlight. Hansard’s worn voice (with some help from Eddie Vedder on backing vocals) perfectly suits this cut from the Boss’s The River, with its lyrical exploration of broken promises and endless possibilities. So while the EP largely presents a formulaic version of Hansard’s bootstrapping heroes, “Drive All Night” is a worthy comingling of artists with similar creative visions. Whereas the rest of the EP feels contrived, with Hansard coasting on grade-school-level insights into romance, the title track captures the controlled intensity that’s been a signature of Hansard’s dusty troubadour aesthetic.