[1 April 2002]
The Pernice Brothers come from a different universe. They make music as if they’re from some parallel reality where three-minute songs teeming with guitars and harmonies rule the airwaves and dominate the singles charts. In their universe, it is always Saturday afternoon and a warm breeze is blowing through the drapes. In their universe, they are always watching the girl walk away as the light dances on her hair. It is a universe where the Pernice Brothers’ latest album, The World Won’t End, is just the dose of medicine your broken heart requires.
Unfortunately, the rest of us live in a vastly different musical universe loaded with bozo rap metal, MTV spring break specials and Britney Spears advertising tie-ins. While it’s unlikely that anything on The World Won’t End will do much to change that cold, harsh reality, the 11 exquisite slices of expertly crafted pop between its grooves will provide another fleeting chance at escape for the band’s fans and anyone else quick enough to jump on board.
For those enchanted by the band’s debut album, Overcome By Happiness, this sophomore effort will not disappoint. All of the ingredients that made the debut so engrossing return again on The World Won’t End. Classic songwriting structures? Check. Wistful melodies? Check. Fragile strings? Check. Gorgeously layered production? Check. Chiming guitars and breathy harmonies? Check. Pedal steel and mandocello? Double check.
The Pernice Brothers don’t really change their sound on The World Won’t End, but then their debut didn’t leave much room for improvement. What they do offer is another helping of reflective, pristine pop adorning the best set of what-happened-to-us-baby songs singer Joe Pernice has ever penned.
As always, Pernice gives us gliding melodies that go down smoother than a cool gin and tonic on a hot afternoon. In fact, the songs are so consistently tuneful and so elegantly constructed that you almost don’t notice, or don’t care, that Pernice’s lyrics are, for the most part, incredibly despairing. Sure, he generally presents a thoughtful, intelligent, adult, and poetic take on relationships, but really, the whole thing is kind of a bummer.
Of course, the trick of wrapping gloomy stories in happy packages is part of the Pernice Brothers’ charm. On “Our Time Has Passed”, Pernice compares his lost love to “a flash of radiation that leaves the buildings where they stand” as strings swell and guitars jangle to the heavens. “Let That Show” gets your toes tapping as Pernice gives himself some tough love after another failed affair and the feeble plea of “Shaken Baby” grabs you with one of those catchy “on and on” choruses that you never want to end.
“Working Girls” and “She Heightened Everything” feature ringing guitars and shimmering harmonies that would sound great at the beach while “7:30” ends with a “ba-da-da” sing-a-long right out of the Turtles’ songbook. The Pernice Brothers obviously want to have it both ways and one of the impressive things about The World Won’t End is that it works just as well blasting from your convertible on a summer day as it does in your headphones while you try drink her off your mind.
Perhaps by presenting their laments in joyously catchy gems, The Pernice Brothers are suggesting that adult weariness can be salved by the childlike wonder in the music. Or perhaps Joe Pernice just never met a hook he didn’t like. Either way, two of the best examples of the band’s approach are found near the end of the album. “Flaming Wreck” and the not-nearly-as-funny-as-its title, “Ballad of Bjorn Borg”, nicely encapsulate the band’s knack for combining pop and pathos.
“Flaming Wreck” begins as another piece of addictive ear candy but soon offers the album’s most dramatic moment when the entire production catches its breath for an instant before resuming in full symphonic glory. Of course, drama is a relative term when you’re talking about the Pernice Brothers and throughout the extended coda Pernice’s voice never rises above his usual ragged whisper. In this universe, drama is revealed in subtle dynamics rather than chest thumping diva moves.
The “Ballad of Bjorn Borg” similarly mixes Laura Stein’s piano and brother Bob Pernice’s quiet guitar into a melody so feathery light it threatens to float away before you can grasp it. Only the yearning in Joe Pernice’s voice keeps things from slipping away completely. On one hand, “Bjorn Borg” is as powerful as anything the Pernice Brothers have recorded while, fortunately on the other, the song’s title shows that they have not completely lost their sense of humor.
Upon first listen, it is easy to think that The World Won’t End is just an extension of the formula created on the band’s debut. As before, the Pernice Brothers exploit the tension between Joe Pernice’s introspective lyrics and the band’s luminous arrangements to great effect. The melodies remain effortlessly memorable, the playing is tight and tasteful, and the production is graceful and stylish. All in all, it’s another pitch-perfect testimonial to one hell of a broken heart and succeeds completely on that level.
However, a slight change in mood is evident this time out, revealing that Joe Pernice may finally be ready to leave the blues behind and focus his considerable songwriting talents on what comes after the heartache. Whatever that may be. The beauty in the music promises that anything is possible and on this album, that ray of hope finds its way into the Pernice Brothers’ universe. The title is a knowing wink to the band’s audience. The World Won’t End. It may be the darkest hour but just wait until you see the dawn.
Now that’s good advice in any universe.