A triumph of engineering as much as anything, Just Like the Fambly Cat, the final release from Grandaddy, suffers a bit for mistaking simple length for thematic scope. It’s a very good album—a step up from 2005’s abrasive Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla—and it speaks to each distinct phase of Grandaddy’s catalogue, making Cat sound, like U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind or Red Hot Chili Peppers’s Stadium Arcadium, a bit like a career retrospective made up of new songs.
But there’s a certain amount of internal redundancy on both micro and macro scales. The atmospheric “Campershell Dreams” is but a better-edited version of the earlier “Summer… It’s Gone,” while “Elevate Myself” is a lesser variation, both in form and content, of “Now It’s On,” a single from 2003’s Sumday. The album and, indeed, Grandaddy’s career offer no shortage of true highlights—here, raucous lead single “Jeez Louise” is one of the best examples of electronic pop since Radiohead’s landmark OK Computer, and the instrumental “Skateboarding Saves Me Twice” is as delicate and beautiful as anything Grandaddy has ever recorded. But that so much of Cat is overlong (four of its 14 tracks clock in over six minutes for absolutely no structural reason) and even rote makes the album something of a disappointment, once the initial enthusiasm evoked by a new Grandaddy record quickly wanes.
That said, the inherent sophistication of Grandaddy’s trademark blend of tweaky electronic elements with captivating pop melodies is the album’s selling point, and engineer Dave Trumfio (who has worked with Wilco and Handsome Family) wisely foregrounds all of frontman, songwriter, and producer Jason Lyttle’s most oddball sound effects. The final product, then, for its ambitious sound design alone, Cat recalls such meticulously crafted albums as John Vanderslice’s Pixel Revolt or Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief. It’s a likeable little niche that Lyttle has carved out for himself in the indie-pop landscape, and, as he bids adieu to Grandaddy, one hopes that he continues to explore this style in ways that are more challenging than parts of Cat.