Looking back to their 2008 debut record Jackson Square, The Arkells have come a long way. And deservingly so; the five friends from Hamilton have worked hard to get to where they are. So after three solid records, each one slightly different, yet still as great as the last, they’ve found some leeway to try out new things and twist their sound in different directions. Fast forward eight years and that’s where you’ll find the Arkells: in a slightly different place with their fourth record Morning Report.
If you’ve been keeping up with their singles over the past few months, you would already know that; poking fun at rich kids with their pseudo-’80s piano pop tune “Private School”, soul/gospel/southern pop “Drake’s Dad”, and the ’90s-stadium rock tune “Making Due” are clear indicators of their drifting sound. More synthesizers, slick guitar effects, and polished production make up a large chunk of Morning Report – which is both good and bad.
In a nutshell, that is probably the best way to describe the new record: “both good and bad”. With a select handful of smart hits finding their way in the track listing, but also a large portion of clean misses scattered throughout, Morning Report is by no means the band’s best work.
With most of their previous discography animated by their college-rock energy and consistently upbeat indie rock swagger, most of Morning Report seems to be missing their hit-making recipe. The always charismatic frontman Max Kerman seems to have chosen slow and slick over his usual electrifying singing style. What might work well during their live performances seems to lose its touch on record, such as the gospel-R&B opening of “Drake’s Dad” (which took almost two minutes to establish any sort of pulse), the sluggish chorus of “Private School”, the sappy synth-pop tune “My Heart is Always Ours” (where Kerman seems to aim outside his usual register), and also the emotional, depressing ballad “Passenger Seat”. Nevertheless, Kerman finds his sweet spot with his newly found, slow, pseudo-crooner style on the album closing ballad “Hangs on the Moon”, serenading fans with an emotive, lullaby-esque ballad helping Morning Report end on a strong note.
Although most of the track list struggles to stand out, especially in relation to the rest of their discography, tracks such as “A Little Rain (A Song for Pete)” and funky dance number “Hung Up” are solid Arkells hits all the way through. Also, to be fair, a decent number of songs eventually pick up for the second half, such as “Drake’s Dad”, “Savannah”, “Come Back Home”, and “My Heart’s Always Yours” – but having to patiently await a saving grace a handful of times is never a good sign.
Fortunately, the Arkells have stayed true to their entertaining storytelling aspect of their songwriting, and lyrically, the album is quite a bit of fun. From the drunken antics with Drake’s dad, the playful teasing in “Private School”, and searching for good in “A Little Rain (A Song for Pete)”, the Hamilton boys have some fun to share. And like any Arkells’ album, there are a healthy dose of songs about love and heartbreak (about six out of twelve tracks).
For an album that has had such a large amount of hype and attention leading up to its release, it was certainly disappointing. It falls short of their true potential, lacking the energy and spirit found throughout the rest of their discography, and although they were smart in choosing to try something new and evolve their sound, their good intentions unfortunately fizzled out much too early. Nevertheless, the Arkells are masters of live performances, and although quite a few things seemed to have missed the target on record, it would be of no surprise that the songs of Morning Report have another dimension that can only be reached from within the realm of an Arkells concert. Otherwise, Morning Report will most likely drift to the bottom of their discography.
A for effort, B- for the result.