Sixpence None the Richer's new album, Divine Discontent is 13 songs of pure pop genius. A big call, I know, but every song on the Texan band's new release is instantly likeable, filled to bursting point with intelligent lyrics, and mind-numbingly catchy pop hooks.
It's without doubt, the pop release of the year. And, quite frankly, with the much of the genre's "creators" slowly dying of some lethal disease causing debilitating blandness and increased nakedness, it's a record that should be welcomed with open arms. It is, after all, what pop music should be.
With Divine Discontent, Sixpence band leader and principal songwriter, Matt Slocum has taken the challenge of creating something to justify of the success of 1999's breakout single, "Kiss Me", managing not only to better that song, but all of his previous efforts. Listening to the guy unroll potential hit after potential hit on the new disc is positively astonishing. These are the kinds of songs one would expect to find on a greatest hits album, yet here they are, barely a year old, all crumpled together in one big ball of musical magic.
Slocum's ability is never more evident than on "Melody of You" and "Paralyzed". Prior to reading the album's liner notes, I had no idea Sixpence were Christian band, and while "Melody" is an ode to Slocum's God, it still works as a rich love song, comparing the mechanics of romance (or dedication to a higher power) to those of creating music. Like many of the album's songs rooted in his Christian beliefs, Slocum has been careful to make them accessible to everyone regardless of religious stance. "This is my call / I belong to you / This is my call to sing the melodies of you", Sixpence vocalist Leigh Nash sings in her glorious, almost orchestral, child-like lilt.
"Paralyzed" is dramatic and intense, about a young journalist killed in Kosovo in 1999. Slocum (who wrote the song) and Nash completed an interview with a friend of the journalist, who they discovered had to break the horrific news to the dead man's pregnant wife. The song is hard to listen to, but musically fulfilling backed with powerful, ripping guitars amplifying its somber tone, again proving the depth of Slocum's talent.
The song is expertly crafted, with a simple but gorgeous hook ("I breathe in, I breath out") and delicate chorus ("Feels like I'm fiddlin' while Rome is burning down / Should I lay my fiddle down / Take a rifle from the ground") effectively breaking three dramatic choruses about, life, death and rebirth from the point of view of the interviewer. Especially tragic is the third verse, detailing his confrontation with the wife: "I picked his books up / Left the office / Went to tell the wife the news / She fells in shock / The baby kicked / And shed a tear inside the womb."
This kind of intensity is littered throughout the album with Slocum tackling all manner of usual and bizarre subjects such as relationship breakdown on "I've Been Waiting" ("I'm changing who I am / 'Cause what I am's not good / And I know you love me now / But I don't see why you should"), a desire to emulate Biblical characters on "Dizzy" ("But I want to be like David / Throwing his clothes to the wind / To dance a jig in my skin / And be remade by your cleansing again") and the writings of Jeremy Begbie and C.S. Lewis on "Time is a Passing Note" ("Do I murder when I forget you from afar / Too drunk on the poison of the endless roads / And the countless smoky bars").
While the album predominantly showcases Slocum's many gifts, its two songs written Nash are worthy of as much praise.
"Eyes Wide Open" (written while the singer was examining her own mortality on a plane) and "Down and Out of Time" (about a longing to be needed) are delightful, searing and poetic, adding a female perspective to the album Slocum's tracks lack.
Divine Discontent is quite simply an expertly written, musically tight, effortlessly executed ride, proving that, as musical partners, Nash and Slocum are a force to be reckoned with.