The New Pornographers

Electric Version

A name like the New Pornographers has got to cause some confusion and trouble for a band -- say, while on the road in less-than-liberal places. But the moniker is really the most shocking element about this fairly happy-go-lucky group, an underground "supergroup" of sorts, comprised of eight members of Vancouver, B.C.-based outfits -- Thee Evaporators, Limblifter, Zumpano, and Destroyer, among others -- and featuring the singing talents of multi-instrumentalist and Midwest transplant Neko Case. Electric Version follows the act's 2000 debut, Mass Romantic, which won Canada's Juno Award (equivalent to the American Grammy) for Best Alternative Album. The new effort seems consciously more geared toward a blissful, classic pop ideal, where the guitar tightness of electric rock meets the sweet harmonies of country and folk in a package palatable to listeners too jaded to delve deeply into any of those genres.

Ensemble members usually act like they're having more fun with this setup than in their "day job" bands, and the New Pornographers are no different. On Electric Version, the musicians sound as though they're expressing a collective smile from beginning to end. "From Blown Speakers," for example, speaks of the almighty bass cabinet and the magic experienced only at a live show. Unfortunately, Case doesn't assume the lead role on most of the songs, instead providing a sharp, sweet counterpart to a mostly male singing set and occasionally breaking out with big vocal hooks, as she does on "The Laws Have Changed." But when she takes full reign and channels the grit of Joan Jett and Belinda Carlisle on the bouncy, saucy rock jam "All for Swinging You Around," it's like drawing in a breath of air after being submerged in warm water. The album is a fun listen, putting to proper shame what we normally think of as pop music, but by its end, it all seems a bit too benign. Given the band's name, perhaps it's not wrong to have secretly lusted for a larger dose of provocation in the mix.

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