The muse is always right. This is something I firmly believe. Artists should follow that devilish sprite wherever it takes them. With this recent album, Luke Temple has done that to an extent that his old fans just might not believe. To put it bluntly, he sounds nothing like himself on Good Mood Fool. It would only be in the most oblique manner that one could make a case about this set of songs extending naturally from his previous work. The easier way to read this album is an aberration. After all, why would a songwriter who’d built up a respectable career in the indie world torpedo a thoughtful discography with an album that sounds like Paul Simon covering Prince? Well, for one, because it’s awesome.
For those upset at this sudden shift, it helps to remember that one’s muse is not always so serious-minded. Indeed, this album finds Temple bounding into a place of undeniable weirdness far, far away from any of his solo output or his (sometimes strange, but mostly Grizzly Bear-ish) work with Here We Go Magic. The best example of this weird, new sensibility is probably the second track, “Katie”, which is built around a drum-machine rhythm, spikes of shimmering keyboard, and Temple’s smooth falsetto croon. Oh, and don’t forget the female voice spliced into almost every line of the song, offering such wisdom as: “That was good, slave,” “I spread my legs,” and, of course, “Life’s a bitch.” Leave it to Katie to quote Nas, right?
But the weirdest thing about the song is that, listening to it over and over again, I’m convinced that it’s about an online stripper. All the right references are there: the narrator claims she is “on [his] screen” and that he can “turn [her] off and on.” And, sure, I’ll admit that the last bit might just be mediocre dirty talk, though I’m willing to bet Temple is actually just being literal, especially since he openly explains, “You’re not a bedrock / You’re not a wife / You’ve never even come close to saving my life.”
Most of the songs are like this: subtle and (mostly) hilarious commentaries on the world as Temple sees it. His ode to British actress Jessica Findlay Brown (best known as Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey) puts him on a plane (“30,000 feet above”) watching Findlay Brown’s 2011 film Albatross, in which she stars as a young novelist having an affair with a friend’s father. The song goes on to describe the plot of the movie, observe how her (fictional) company makes the flight easier, and admire Findlay Brown’s “pineapple head and deli-counter chest.” I haven’t seen the film, so perhaps I’m missing something there, but even if I’m not, this is an absurd, amazing description.
And I can’t overlook the passive-aggressive “Those Kids”, on which Temple grapples not only with younger generations not liking his music along with not being, as he slyly admits in a distorted background chorus, “such idiots.” But while there are hits, there are also misses. The funky, reggae-lite “Terrified Witness” seems to be a protest song about the U.S. bombing of Japan during World War II, at least judging from the references to “Mr. Truman” and “150,000 dead in the blink of an eye.” Weird and about 65 years removed from being relevant. And whatever comedic mark there may have been buried there, if any, Temple sorely misses it. And on the album’s final track, “Hardest Working Self Made Mexican”, the only funny thing about the story of an illegal immigrant pointing out his essential self-reliance is that it mirrors the title of the track, “Hardest Working Hand”, which I want very badly to be a masturbation joke.
Some will undoubtedly listen to this album and only be able to hear an artist blowing off some steam, letting loose from his accustomed sound. It might strike some, albeit in a much more expansive way, not unlike Sun Kil Moon’s 2012 album Among the Leaves, on which folk-rock’s most miserable troubadour actually cracked a couple jokes. But it’s so much weirder than that. But at the end of the day, even if the adventurous output is completely awful, the greatest artistic failure is the unwillingness to gamble one’s hard-won reputation. You can see how easy it would have been for Luke Temple to be complacent here; he had built up a solid reputation in the indie world and it would have been simple to release a toned-down Here Goes The Magic album. But instead we ended up with this album and I, for one, could not be any happier.