This Beirut article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson
Beirut’s fourth studio album, ‘No No No’, drops almost all of the orchestration of their previous albums, which mixed Balkan and mariachi influences with a US indie sound. As well as involving fewer musicians, the album is really short at just over 29 minutes long. It’s sadly a bit of a let down. Zach Condon, as usual, writes all the songs.
‘Gibraltar’ opens, and it has quiet percussion and a plinky, plonky piano, but none of the rich brass arrangements that Beirut used so much on previous albums. It sounds as if Condon’s trying to sing like David Byrne on Talking Heads’ ‘Heaven’ from 1979’s ‘Fear Of Music’. But he’s not in the same league. The track is a series of false starts, with little percussive/bass wake-ups, and it ends much as it starts, with that plinking piano.
The title track ‘No, No, No’ starts with a music-box intro, unrelated to the rest of the tune, which mixes synthy organ, jazzy drums and more of the same singing style, as if a lazy west coast folk version of David Byrne’s east coast edginess was ever going to work. This time it’s a Talking Heads song from 1985’s ‘Little Creatures’ album, ‘And She Was’, that comes to mind. It’s all very gentle, but at least there’s some brass, even if not the chaotic and full sound of earlier albums ‘Gulag Orkestar’ and ‘The Flying Club Cup’.
Condon uses gentle percussion and brass on ‘At Once’, which is mournful and again relies heavily on the piano. ‘August Holland’ is jolly adult-oriented rock, with more keyboards and some woodwind building into a string climax.
‘As Needed’ has more of this album’s annoying trademark plonking piano, but adds a double bass and strings, turning out to be an instrumental. It’s part deliberately hollow, moody and sparse; part background music from old children’s TV. ‘Perth’ features more of the thin and spacey sub-David Byrne style singing and a bit of jazzy brass and a playful electric organ.
‘Pacheco’ asks “How long, How long?” Too long is the answer, as the song is so slow it almost falls over. Penultimate track ‘Fener’ is like hotel foyer music, with the singer sliding awkwardly between notes and jarring against backing vocals. On ‘So Allowed’, it’s the strings that slide, and a small section of the song is so quiet that it’s like it hasn’t been through post-production. But at least, and at last, there are some horns to brighten it up.
On Beirut’s third album, ‘The Rip Tide’, the singing was faster and the tunes more rounded. ‘No No No’ just seems to be less of everything that is good about Beirut. Their latest record is short, shallow, and a big departure from the band’s previous output. It is stripped of all of the chaotic brass and strings that previously made Beirut an entertaining band, but it’s not clear that the decision to remove layers of orchestration has helped create anything better than the old formula
‘No No No’ is available now 4AD