I have to admit—it’s almost impossible to listen to Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes and not smile, even when they’re singing about sad stuff. The exuberant hippie-folk, free-spirited gospel-ly vibe of frontman Alex Ebert and clan (and that’s what you call a 10-piece band—a clan) is nothing if not contagious. Whenever I hear them—or watch them live—I have this inexplicable urge to jump on the platform with them (or gather around their campfire, as the case may be) and start playing a washboard or something. Just to be part of the gig.
That’s really the greatest strength of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, in my opinion: the combination of a self-gathered crowd and a diverse, fun musical style creates a certain magnetism that compels us to join the party. The clan’s self-titled third album continues to carry this open invitation first established by Up From Below and Here.
While I’m hard pressed to find anything with as much staying power as “Home”, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes does have its moments. Opener “Better Days” provides one of the band’s more anthemic moments, combining the bitter with the sweet (“We might still know sorrow, but we’ve got better days”), while the follow-up “Let’s Get High” is a clappy/stompy invitation to, um, get high on love, eventually morphing more into more of a swaying, gospel-like, lighters-in-the-air call to love everyone. “Country Calling” is actually more like a catchy cocktail of rockabilly, soul and lo-fi rock, with one of the record’s most sing-able hooks: “Country Calling / I’ve got to leave L.A.” Elsewhere, “In the Lion” creates one of the album’s most danceable moments, with a bouncy, Afro-influenced rhythm that brings back memories of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” the Lion King soundtrack, and probably a half-dozen other lion-referenced songs you might be able to think of. For anyone who has been hanging at the Edward Sharpe campfire for awhile, this record will definitely satisfy.
And yet, this comes with something of a caveat. As feel-good as the hippie movement was, the fact is, we eventually outgrew it. The campfire burned out, we packed up the tent, got back in the Volkswagen bus, came back to town, and found other ways to express ourselves. Revisiting those feelings is fun for awhile, but eventually the party will wind down, just as it did before—even if the lessons we learned continue to teach us.
And that’s my concern. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes have created a great experience, and this album continues that experience—but there’s only so far they can take it before it wears thin. And let’s not forget that in essence, Alex Ebert is playing a character here. My point is that I think this expression has an expiration date, and because this record really doesn’t offer much of anything new, I think it may be the first sign that Edward Sharpe, et. al, have crossed the pinnacle, and may now have fewer days in front of them than behind them. That is, unless they completely revamp.
But for now, anyway, the party’s still on, the campfire is still burning, the stories are still being told, and even the songs about sorrow are still bringing solace. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes is a good album. Join the party, and enjoy it while it lasts.