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Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, ‘Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ – Album Review

In Diffuser.fm’s recent interview with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, one bit of information stares at you like a playing card stuck to a frat boy’s forehead: The project has become more of a collaboration and now features many of the members writing songs and contributing ideas. In the history of rock ‘n’ roll, this is a hit-or-miss prospect. The hits are obvious (the Beatles) while many other bands (Pearl Jam, arguably) were better off being led by one person. 

On their self-titled third album, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros sound little like they did on their debut. No longer as folky as they look, the L.A. collective has shifted their sound toward Motown soul and classic R&B, though they retain a bit of extreme hippie psych-folk, just to ensure the album seems as awkward as possible — after the first song, at least.

‘Better Days’ has a haphazard drumbeat that singer and bandleader Alex Ebert’s voice seemingly can’t keep up with, and the album begins like a accident in slow motion. But the chorus provides a new paradigm for how to use a gospel choir in rock ‘n’ roll, and suddenly, ‘Better Days’ becomes the best song the band has ever made, Ebert capturing the power of Joe Cocker with his husky, emotional inflections.

Based on this, it’s hard to blame the group for keeping down this same road and seeing where it leads. The answer, we quickly learn, is nowhere. And fast. By the end of its intro, which comes complete with 1940s radio sound effects, track two, ‘Let’s Get High,’ has squashed all goodwill, as it strives to be four songs at once.

As ‘Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ continues, the group dishes song after song of bad ’60s pantomiming. One exception, ‘Life Is Hard,’ is a high school dance song straight out of the ’50s, and it makes you wonder whether the band just got its sources confused. Less bothersome is the understated and tasteful ‘In The Summer,’ but it’s exceedingly similar to the work of Devendra Banhart, a fellow California retro-folk artist Ebert seems to model his look on. It doesn’t do the artist or album any favors.

In a week or so, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros headline the Hollywood Bowl, and you have to be happy for the guy after all he’s been through. That said, it’s hard to see people buying into this sound, given that the singer has been known to change his style to suit his ambitions. Hopefully, he eventually stumbles upon something that actually sounds original or personal, but for now, one of music’s most baffling success stories will continue its rise in spite of its quality.

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