Album Review: Good Old War, ‘Broken Into Better Shape’
If the title Broken Into Better Shape sounds like a dig at drummer Tim Arnold, who took leave from Good Old War during the writing process for this album, rest assured that it isn't. Arnold hasn't actually cut ties with his partners. The drummer's "DNA" and "fingerprints" remain on several of the songs that made the final cut and, while remaining members Keith Goodwin and Dan Schwartz convened with a host of guest musicians in Nashville to fill-out their sound in the wake of Arnold's departure, he has since re-joined his bandmates as Good Old War's touring drummer.
Nevertheless, Broken Into Better Shape heralds a host of changes in the band's sound and approach. Easily the most fleshed-out and fully arranged of Good Old War's material to date, Broken Into Better Shape sees Goodwin and Schwartz embracing pop on a scale they'd barely scraped on their previous three studio albums. Although Goodwin and Schwartz do touch on several life setbacks lyrically, producer Jason Lehning (Alison Krause, Dolly Parton) subsumes any remaining traces of the pair's indie quirk in favor of radio-friendly production polish.
Clearly, Goodwin and Schwartz set out on a search for change, opening up their writing to collaborations with song-doctors-for-hire like Zimbabwan-born urban producer T-Collar and co-writer Emile Haynie (fun., Bruno Mars). At the end of the day, though, it's hard to argue with Good Old War's ability to combine the power of hook and sentiment. "Tell Me What You Want From Me," for example, immediately touches on a universal feeling that makes the song's acoustic-strummed drive and stomp-clap groove all the more galvanizing.
The graduation from the ranks of indie-pop to full-blown pop can be traumatic for a band's followers, and Broken Into Better Shape will no doubt throw fans who were drawn to Good Old War's folkish tendencies. By the same token, as a document of an artist consciously attempting to connect with a broader audience while also stretching its palette, Broken Into Better Shape certainly compensates with texture and refinement that were lacking in Good Old War's coffeehouse-style production values in the past.