The Polyphonic Spree has always been the little indie engine that couldn’t quite. They were Arcade Fire before it was profitable to be. Since 2002, Tim DeLaughter and company have been farming an ever-smaller and more fallow plot of indie dirt, found somewhere at the intersection of the Flaming Lips and Jonestown. Although DeLaughter and his band haven’t suffered the grotesque fate of Jim Jones’s ill-fated colony, they haven’t enjoyed anywhere near the success of the former either.
This highlights the problem of the shtick-driven band. Like any gimmick, its shelf life of fashionability, if Polyphonic Spree can ever be said to have been “fashionable,” is exceedingly short. Each successive album merely adds a fresh coat of paint to songs that aren’t all that different from the last batch. The result has been diminishing artistic and commercial returns, and their fourth album, Yes, It’s True, is no exception. Its 11 tracks mostly sound like variations on the Chemical Brothers’ “The Golden Path”—a collaboration with, you guessed it, the Flaming Lips. The album lives in an alternate universe where the Polyphonic Spree, not Arcade Fire, rode this Lips-with-disco-boots shtick to stardom. So what we’re left with is a genially pleasing album that has absolutely no reason to exist.
Therefore, it’s best to evaluate this album as the pre-fab retro object it was always destined, if not intended, to be. “Carefully Try” even goes so far as to announce the music’s exceedingly modest aims. “Ah yes,” an announcer declares, “sounds of the ’70s with the Polyphonic Spree.” This overt embrace of easy musical antecedents isn’t just reflected in the album’s employment of contentedly recognizable old influences, it’s in the very fabric of the lyrics from the very first track. As the opening words of “You Don’t Know Me” profess: “It’s easy to forget what you came for when you get old.”
DeLaughter’s sentiment has the wistful ring of truth, but recognizing a spiritual confidant doesn’t make Yes, It’s True any fresher. The album’s charms are entirely rooted in the familiar, and while that makes it go down smoothly, it doesn’t give one any reason to listen again once the last notes fade away.