Pernice Brothers' The World Won't End, released in 2001, was daring enough to end a song of despair with an airy coda of ba da da's. The quintet's third full-length, Yours, Mine & Ours, makes another compelling case for letting a three-minute pop nugget embrace verses of crisis and tragedy.
But isn't a pop melody only as good as its hooks, after all? By that damning critera, Yours, Mine & Ours doesn't really begin until the third track, "One Foot in the Grave." The song charges toward its chorus, with a driving beat and a fuzzed-out guitar line counterpointed by a keyboard. "In the calm, in the storm . . . there's a radio to play," frontman Joe Pernice sings -- a chorus that rings true and is sung with enough conviction to make the song an unlikely anthem, even as we're reminded of the radio's "foot in the grave."
The mordant wit of Pernice's lyrics provided a backbone to the band's first two albums. (The temps of "Working Girls," the opening track of The World Won't End, are presented a catch-22 of "suicide or a graduate degree.") But the preciousness of Pernice's voice, which was often accompanied by swelling strings, still dragged the music close to the abyss of adult contemporary. Fortunately, the band has now dropped the strings for organs and various effects that still preserve the brightness of their sound. An even more noticeable change is Pernice's matured voice, now bolder and less tricked-out by effects. A self-confessed Morrissey disciple, Pernice has clearly inherited his master's sophisticated vocal phrasing along with his obsession with melancholy.
Yours, Mine & Ours has two, maybe three, songs as strong as "One Foot in the Grave," where lyrical conceit and melody make for a happy team. (The plaintive "Baby in Two" contemplates the Sampson act of dicing up the kid, in this case to get through to a girl.) But the middle of the album has one too many forgettable numbers, and the closer, "Number Two," plods away and ends up leaving a bad taste in the mouth. The jilted lover of the song wishes the worst for his ex, writing, "I hope this letter finds you crying. It would feel so good to see you cry."
Are sob stories better left on the therapist's couch? Maybe, but by now Pernice Brothers have at least proven themselves able to make misery sound pretty damn good. That's a good enough reason to wait and see what their fourth release offers.
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