Tim Burgess
Photo: Cat Stevens / Courtesy of Big Hassle Media

Tim Burgess’ ‘Typical Music’ Is a 22-song Adventure

The more-is-more nature of Typical Music may be a mixed blessing, but Tim Burgess’ biggest gift is a generosity of spirit on this giddy, 22-song adventure.

Typical Music
Tim Burgess
Bella Union
23 September 2022

Typical Music, Tim Burgess‘ fifth solo album, has 22 songs and is 90 minutes long. Typically, these sorts of double albums have been regarded as self-indulgent affairs that reward fans but do so rather inefficiently. Take any double album, the conventional wisdom goes, and there’s a better single album to be found inside. All that’s needed is some judicious trimming. But Burgess tried a different approach. By thinking of each whim and each track “as if it was the best thing and had to be treated with extreme care”, as he recently told his record label, he could present Typical Music as an act of generosity to fans and listeners.

In that sense, Typical Music is a spoil of riches. It’s the sprawling, anything-goes kind of double album that rushes headlong through genres and styles, twisting and turning and looping around all the while. But that’s not all. Even many individual songs take this same approach, like double albums in compacted form. “L.O.S.T.”, for example, is a bucolic bit of dream pop with a hop-skipping rhythm and shimmering keyboard. That is, until the three-minute mark when it is overtaken by crashing heavy metal guitars and a squalling, feedback-drenched solo. Then, it’s back to the dreaminess until the song gets stuck on a harmonized phrase and gives way to a pulsating, cosmic space-out of a coda.

“Kinetic Connection” is a pleasant, breezy, midtempo indie pop track, except when interrupted by a dizzy, psychedelic breakdown. Similarly, “After This” is another shimmering, jangling pop train that runs right off the rails into a frenzied, double-time fugue. Burgess is well-known for his voracious musical appetite and pours it all into the pot of Typical Music. Sometimes, though, the result is musical ADHD. Some tracks literally can’t get out of their own way.

Typical Music has almost everything one could imagine, an album that finds room for rich, multi-tracked harmonies and talk-box guitar, one where the only thing better than a big, echoey space out is a bigger, even more echoey space out. Burgess writes a gorgeous piano-pop love song and then spends two minutes at the beginning of the song in a navel-gazing monologue explaining how and why he came to write that track, which he is about to sing. Though this may seem like the very pinnacle of self-indulgent grandiosity, it’s really just Burgess being his own affable self. If his musical mind is in the clouds, his head is level. His music is a way of explaining and relating the rich yet humble life he is living. That becomes quite clear in his lyrics, which are more means of verbal processing. Therefore, when he says, “I hope you don’t find me too boring,” it comes across as earnest rather than trite.

Especially since getting sober some years ago, Burgess possesses an enthusiasm and appetite for life that is vivid and charismatic. “It’s such a wondrous surprise / Just to be here, being alive,” he says on “After This”, the title presumably referring to the pandemic during which Typical Music was recorded. On “L.O.S.T.”, he goes a bit further: “We can walk into tomorrow / We can carry all our stuff.” On paper, the sentiments seem silly or overly-simplistic, but Burgess makes them into more of a philosophy. His lack of guile lets him get away with it every time.

This charisma and energy are especially crucial to Typical Music because Burgess is not a naturally-gifted songwriter or melodicist. The album gets by on personality and quirky, oddball production (via collaborators Thighpaulsandra and Daniel O’Sullivan and Dave Fridmann’s vibrant, maximalist mix) more than hooks. That’s not to say it doesn’t have catchy moments. Burgess would probably be annoyed to read it, but the most engaging songs sound like they could make up most of a Charlatans album. There is the beguiling, DIY pop of “Here Comes the Weekend”, the piano-led “Kinetic Connection”, and the surf-rock-meets krautrock of the title track, with its commanding chorus. On multiple songs, Burgess’ longstanding tendency to turn toward an unexpected minor chord comes into play.

On those occasions when Burgess does settle into a groove and let the song breathe, the results can be breathtaking. “Tender Hooks” is a straight-ahead, New Order-influenced indie with a danceable beat. “Sure Enough” is a lovely dream pop track with rolling piano, shuffling rhythm, and a bear hug of a chorus. The album highlight, though, is the delicate, whimsical melancholia of the country-tinged “In May”, where Burgess’s multi-tracked voice serves to give himself company and consolation. The more-is-more nature of Typical Music may be a mixed blessing, but Burgess’ and the album’s biggest gift is a generosity of spirit.

RATING 7 / 10