The music of multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Andrew Bird is chimeric, and it constantly writhes and shifts just as you think you have a firm grasp of it. This is hardly surprising given his experimental tendencies, his proficiency with varied instruments and musical styles, and it certainly makes for exciting listening. With his thirteenth studio album, Are You Serious, Bird has decided to take a more personal approach to his lyrics, drawing upon his married life for inspiration, but his lyrics maintain a cryptic, universal, quality so they never feel particularly confessional and plenty of room is left for the listener to impart their own interpretation to the songs.
Are You Serious opens with lead single Capsized, which explores how a breakup can turn one’s world upside down, shattering all stability, but the groovy, soul, infused instrumentation and vocal delivery – the combination of which is almost buoyant – wonderfully undercuts the lyrical content. Capsized has been in Bird’s live repertoire for some time now, and Bird has stated that Capsized is a song that is capable of holding his interest as a performer as it is flexible enough to change its musical presentation based on his mood. Second single, Roma Fade, probably goes someway to explain Capsized’s upbeat feel, as Bird lyrically recounts glimpsing, but not yet meeting, his future wife and contemplating how unspoken bonds are first formed before later being strengthened.
Fiona Apple appears on the combative, acoustic, duet of Left Handed Kisses, a lover’s quarrel over the concept of true love – with Apple prosecuting the case for, and Bird against – with neither side truly convincing the other and each pondering the make-or-break nature of such a difference in world view for the relationship. Bird has explained that when he realised that the song – which he started writing from the perspective of an internal monologue – would need to be a duet, he knew he needed a vocal partner who would be “indicting”, and he observes that Apple “does the pissed off thing really well”. The session for recording Left Handed Kisses was an “unhinged” “whiskey fuelled night” according to Bird, but “well worth it”. Bird’s sense of fun around the song is also evident when he croon’s the word “baby” at one point, after playfully pointing out within the song itself that this is a stock standard refrain for singers to throw in to such a song.
With Are You Serious Bird delivers a pop album, but through the looking glass. People accustomed to mainstream pop may be intimidated by Bird’s shifting musicality and at times weird lyrical and sonic combinations, but for anyone willing to embrace the strangeness songs like Puma and The New St Jude are simply a lot of fun. This is an alt-pop album, but more than just an alt-pop album, that deserves to be listened to.