McLennan’s new album, Sympathy for the New World recapitulates the sound of his debut
Ross McLennan, not to be confused with Grant of Go-Betweens, has his own legacy -- as leader of Aussie alternative group Snout for a decade until 2002. His first solo album, Hits from the Brittle Building, had a few genuinely noteworthy songs. “Gifts for the Kids” and “John Howard the Actor” both turned Snout’s sound more solidly towards the indie-pop mainstream, and were overlooked gems. McLennan’s new album, Sympathy for the New World, recapitulates the sound of his debut, though unfortunately without these glittering moments of brilliance. It’s an odd sort of cerebral album, with songs that float along on chiming guitars and scraps of melodic strings. This isn’t verse-chorus music; it’s more concerned with the exploration of corners of sound and atmosphere, casual with form. On the best material this gives a visceral, organic feeling (“Pete Best”, e.g., an autumnal, mature song). At other times, the tracks seem to wander without much direction. McLennan has the croaky delivery of a '90s rock guy projecting sincerity, and it occasionally detracts from the impact of his otherwise accomplished singing voice and the suburban poetry of his declarative turns. When he lets things spin a little out of control, as on the cacophonous “Helpless Gods”, the music actually feels more genuine.