Q: How many members of the Polyphonic Spree does it take to change a light bulb? A: None. But it takes a whole mess of those crazy hippies to reach for the sun. All bad jokes aside, Tim DeLaughter’s band of merriment, the Polyphonic Spree, is back with their second installment of “sections.” Their first album, The Beginning Stages of…, contained sections 1-10, and this time around Together We’re Heavy goes from section 11 to 20. The `song names’ on both albums appear in parentheses, almost as an aside to be forgotten.
I can only assume that Tim DeLaughter, former frontman of Tripping Daisy, was a drama geek in high school and knew every lyric and note to both Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. DeLaughter has picked and chosen the aspects of those influences to use for his own white-robed collective, leaving out the overt Christianity and replacing it with a sun-worshipping hippie goodness. Somehow, he has found a way to combine the essence of the sixties’ free love movement with today’s indie scene and has managed to get it on a label owned by Disney. Go figure. Even though I might make it sound hard to swallow, it’s really apt. Both albums by the Spree are filled with happy, hopeful, and motivational messages that, simple though they may be, are sure to be effective with listeners.
Maybe thanks to their record label and maybe to their popularity, the Spree can be found everywhere. They were featured in a Volkswagen ad on television. They had the same song featured in the film The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, even if it was a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ audio appearance. They recently completed a tour with David Bowie even though he “never really got off on that Revolution stuff.” The Spree’s first album featured wonderfully crafted choral pop songs that brightened the spirits in “It’s the Sun,” “Soldier Girl,” and “Light & Day / Reach for the Sun.” Together We’re Heavy picks up from its predecessor in more ways than one. For one, as I mentioned earlier, the section numbers continue sequentially. Secondly, the last song on the first album, “A Long Day,” an over-30 minute soundscape, is echoed in the first song on the new one, “A Long Day Continues / We Sound Amazed.”
Section 12, or “Hold Me Now,” is the band’s first single and definitely radio friendly. Sounding like Wayne Coyne singing the bridge to “A Day in the Life,” the song is sure to be a huge hit. From the violins to the horns, piano to harp, the song is definitely a huge nod (read that word however you want, i.e. rip-off, homage, etc.) to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band era Beatles. The group is definitely a subscriber to the “All You Need is Love” mantra philosophy. The instruments swirl and sweep into dizzying heights of cacophony, letting the band live up to its name.
“Two Thousand Places” is the next most noticeable song on the album and is already being cited as a lyrical steal from Des’Ree’s “You Gotta Be”:
“You gotta be good, you gotta be strong
You gotta be two thousand places at once”
Despite that fact and the obvious similarities to the Beatles found in the rest of the album, DeLaughter and company do deliver an entertaining package. One big difference to note between the Spree and the sixties-era way of life they exhibit seems to be the use of psychedelics. While bands thirty-five years ago would drop, tune in, and turn off, then recite lyrics about purple mushrooms, lizard people, and whatnot, DeLaughter’s lyrics are a drug-free, family friendly, Disney-ized version of the sixties, just as the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is their version of piracy on the high seas. Could you imagine what the ride would do to kids if the real activities of pirates were actually depicted?
It’s hard for me not to like the Polyphonic Spree. After decades upon decades of gloomy music, a lot of which I love, they are a rainbow after a massive thundershower. I also wonder how the collective actually makes money. With two dozen members to take on tour, feed, and provide for, the money must be thin, which just goes to show that these people are doing it for the love of what they do. Whether they take the whole robe / collective thing seriously or its kitsch is somewhat hard to tell. Maybe we’ll only know after they have a “Kool-Aid” party.