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Photo: Shane Timm

Good Old War: Broken Into Better Shape

Despite their seemingly inexplicable handle, Good Old War proves to be anything but belligerent.
Good Old War
Broken Into Better Shape
Nettwerk

Despite their seemingly inexplicable handle, Good Old War proves to be anything but belligerent on this, their fourth long player since their formation some five years ago. While regret and remorse play an integral role in the alt rock pastiche these days, Good Old War prove they’re more than capable of tempering their angst with the right amount of melody and catchy hooks to effectively mute any sense of urgency or indifference. Consequently, Broken Into Better Shape proves true to its title, resulting in the band’s most accessible effort yet and one that just might jettison them into prime time popularity.

Coming on the heels of the duo’s last album, the critically lauded Come Back As Rain, the heightened accessibility factor that accompanies the new album seems especially fortuitous. Although they’re clearly associated with the cooler realms of the alternative scene, it’s clear that the two men who co-helm Good Old War — specifically, singer/songwriters Keith Goodwin and Dan Schwartz – have never been content to marginalise their music to any great degree. Individually, they may be quirky; according to their bio, Goodwin “owns a cat named King and a dog named Jet…” (and) “writes at the very least an idea for a song each day and is known for unique stage dancing”, while Schwartz is described as “a music-obsessed Sagittarius with a bike riding habit the size of Philadelphia…”

Those traits hardly prepare anyone unaware for the unusually infectious sound Broken Into Better Shape provides. There’s nothing especially odd or off-kilter tossed into the mix here, and indeed, given the presence of veteran producer Jason Lehning, the tone is slightly more refined. To the contrary, most of the music is of the decidedly upbeat variety. Aside from opening track “Tell Me What You Want From Me” (the most apparent example of a slacker anthem) the rest of the offerings are chipper to the point of actually being quite effusive. “Small World”, “Broken Into Better Shape”, “Broken Record”, and, surprisingly, “Dark Days” sound celebratory in their unabashedly breathless enthusiasm. That’s not to say there’s aren’t moments of respite; the gentle and genteel “Don’t Forget” gives the album a subtle send-off, while the ache that permeates “One More Time” is so well pronounced, it’s all but unavoidable. Yet for every song like “I’m the One” and its litany of ills (“I made a mistake / I shouldn’t have made / I’m waiting at the back door / Standing in the rain”), there’s another like “Fly Away” which counters with a shimmering, affirmative embrace (“It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright”).

What ultimately emerges here is a set of songs that speaks to both optimism and setbacks in equal measure, echoing the changes that occur normally in life over the course of time. It’s the promise that prevails, a hopeful sense that keeps one from leaping off the nearest bridge whenever there’s an obstacle or a turn for the worse. That then may be the real meaning behind Broken Into Better Shape, the musical equivalent of making lemonade from lemons. Thankfully, the effect is every bit as sweet.

RATING 7 / 10
PopMatters