Thursday, March 08, 2007

RIB Review: The Innocence Mission - We Walked In Song

Where, where the hell is Bill?
- Camper Van Beethoven

The above could be the theme song for disgruntled R.E.M. fans like myself who have been mostly disappointed with the band's output since the departure of drummer Bill Berry (with the exception of 1998's Up, which I adore). The Innocence Mission, too, lost their drummer, Steve Brown, in 1999, and, like R.E.M., haven't replaced him. Brown left the band to pursue a career as a chef, opening Lily's On Main in Ephrata, Pa. and another in nearby Lancaster, IM's home base. I had lunch one day at the Ephrata restaurant - a classy joint with an ambiance reminiscent of Charles Rennie Mackintosh - and the food was excellent. I didn't work up the courage to ask if Steve was in the kitchen at the time.

But IM's drummer-free work has actually been quite good. For example, their last album, Befriended, was too short and too sparse at times, but it's a no-doubt-about-it treasure (NPR even named it Album of the Year).

And so is We Walked in Song - way too short, so light it could float away, and just so damn lovable you want to sleep with it under your pillow. All it really lacks is the punch, the drive, the backbone, that only drums can provide. Don Peris hits the skins a bit on We Walked in Song, but his playing is rudementary at best and sounds distant, like it's coming out of a different speaker. The songs are at worst very, very good, and mostly great - if this doesn't end up high on my Top 10 list for 2007 then it will have been a transcendently fabulous year for music - but they're never driven home the way they were on IM's masterpiece, 1995's Glow. Which makes We Walked in Song more like an album of lullabies (which wouldn't be a first for them).

A few days ago on this blog, I called We Walked in Song "a tad boring". I like the album more today than I did when I wrote that, but I can't completely back down from it. As a small indie folk outfit from Amish country who puts family ahead of touring and whom you'd never expect (or really want) to experiment, picking up their latest work isn't supposed to shock or shift paradigms or break new ground sonically. And basic themes will be repeated from album to album. But I do miss the beat, I do miss quiet songs that explode or rocking songs that take it to the next level.

Don't get me wrong: IM is my favorite band, and this album is another classic that I'll be listening to until I keel over (if you've never heard of this band before, stop reading this blog and start buying everything they've ever recorded). But while We Walked in Song fits comfortably into IM's near-sacred body of work, I am left wondering, as another year goes by, even though I know the answer, where, where the hell is Steve? Released: It'll be in stores on Tuesday. BLESSED.

The Innocence Mission's MySpace page (with streaming audio)


bonjourtristesse said...

The Amish community will soon, at some time in the future, surrender their boycott on electricity and offer up their version of Zeppelin...first single "When the Levee Breaks, The Whole Town Will Fix It". Cheers on a great blog!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you and I thought
I was one of the few as most
reviews say with each album (this
is there strongest work yet), and
while I think We Walked in Song
is amazingly great, for me there
is nothing like Glow (That Was Another Country, Spinning, Speak our Minds...). Its good to hear
someone echo my exact thoughts...

Anonymous said...

In case you guys didn't hear yet, the innocence mission is playing in June at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA. It's not posted on the band's website yet, but I already was able to order tickets on the venue's website.

Anonymous said...

Thanks on the NorthHamptom tip.
I bought tickets - it will be my first IM concert!