[27 October 2006]
“A new beginning”. Those are first three words that greet you when you open the case of Jeremy Enigk’s latest release, World Waits. Certainly, there’s never been an indie rocker whose appearance and disappearance from the scene inspired as much scrutiny as Enigk. His first vanishing act came shortly after the release of the critically lauded and now landmark self-title sophomore album by emo-rock pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate. After a conversion to Christianity, Enigk reappeared with a new solo album, Return Of The Frog Queen. Sunny Day Real Estate reformed a couple of years later, releasing two more studio albums. How It Feels To Be Something On was released on Sub Pop, while The Rising Tide was handled by the now defunct Time Bomb. Once again, the band disbanded in face of money woes from their label, this time on the eve of a European tour. Again they reformed a couple of years later, this time under the moniker The Fire Theft. That self-titled release found the group on yet another label, this time with Rykodisc, while the band’s more prog-fuelled sound dismayed some listeners. And of course, we can’t forget Enigk’s contributions to the hyped but ultimately underperforming soundtrack to the indie film The United States Of Leland.
Faith, business relations, and just plain old bad luck have plagued Enigk, but where most songwriters would simply just stop, he has continued on. Perhaps buoyed by the overwhelming reception and interest in whatever his latest project is, Enigk has had a startling track record, a songwriter with album after album of strong and often stunning material. Unfairly slapped with the now derogatory emo tag, it was Sunny Day Real Estate’s overwhelming passion that awoke a cynical indie scene. While many bands have come along and watered down their sound to a depressing formula, going back and listening to Sunny Day Real Estate albums is a reminder that evocative and intelligent alternative rock is not an oxymoron.
“A New Beginning” is also the name of the opening minute-and-a-half statement of World Waits. Easily Enigk’s biggest sounding solo effort to date, the track introduces the album with sweeping strings, church bells and soaring vocals. The first proper song, the cheekily titled “Been Here Before”, will be a relief to Enigk fans who worried with The Rising Tide that he might once again tweak his already successful formula. World Waits is a wonderful return to the passionate, full-bodied songwriting at which Enigk excels. To be sure there are subtle differences. “Been Here Before” stops midway for a brief bridge provided by church organ, before leading into its awe-inspiring, triumphant chorus. He is also joined by a formidable cast of supporting players including backing vocalists, string and horn players and a handful of drummers—yet with all these tools at his disposal, Enigk’s songs stay remarkable focused, and undeniably powerful.
Economy is the name of the game with World Waits, and for the all the additional instrumentation they are employed with the greatest of care. World Waits creates some startlingly effective moods that allow plenty of elbow room for Enigk’s versatile voice to fill the spaces, as well as for the songs’ careful construction to unfold naturally. Songs like the piano and drum driven “Canons” succeed because the shifting instrumentation which later includes both electric and acoustic guitars isn’t forced, instead building slowly, wonderfully on the track’s foundation. “Damien Dreams” can make the sudden shift from desperation to anger because of this approach, yet still remain balanced by Enigk’s vocal ability to make the emotions palpable.
It’s odd being a Jeremy Enigk fan, simply because you can never be sure when he might reappear next. Hopefully World Waits will garner enough critical and fan reception to keep Enigk in collective acclaim, so that his next move won’t arrive as a surprise. But even if he must face another inglorious fade out, as long as he returns with an album as graceful as World Waits,/i> his forever steadfast legion of fans will have nothing to fear.