Man, Those Hippies Got It Right
Hippies: They’re just the people that attended Woodstock and did drugs all the time and wore campy clothes, right? Well, that’s at least how they’re presented. But there’s something to say for all the music that they gravitated towards — even if they were high for a majority of the time while listening. For anyone born after the hippie era, the only representation of hippie culture presented is that seen on the silver screen (Fillmore from Disney Pixar’s Cars being just one example). Portugal. The Man’s latest album, Woodstock, transports listeners back to 1969 and those three revolutionary days up in New York. The free-spirited, forever-young nature of John Gourley’s lyrics captures what it must’ve been like to attend the festival as a 20-something-year-old, riding the high of an unparalleled experience with the rest of life lying ahead.
Before the album’s release, the incredibly infectious single “Feel It Still” caused many heads to bob and fingers to snap with its driving yet dance-y groove, sprinkled with Gourley’s silky vocals. It is almost too short, at right around 2:40, but no matter how much of the track is heard, it beckons to be heard again and again. It’s a song to throw into a party playlist to keep the energy up and get friends to ask, “Ooh what song is this? This is good!” Arguably, Portugal. The Man’s catchiest song to date, “Feel It Still” has a wealth of instruments backing up the drums, bass and vocals — an almost Oriental-sounding guitar riff at the end of the chorus, synthesized brass/saxophones packing a nice extra punch, tambourine and handclaps augmenting the drums, plus a spattering of effects here and there. It’s a song for the summer, and one for the books.
Aside from the infectious single, the album is a cohesive effort without using techniques like seamless transitions between tracks or repeated samples. The unstoppable youthful exuberance of Woodstock is excellently depicted, as is the more melancholy side of once-in-a-lifetime events like this: “Come back Sunday morning / a lie, oh well / when you’re gone / goodbye, so long, farewell,” Gourley sings on “Live in the Moment,” and, “It’s that sufferin’ / don’t know why it brings / such sweet memories,” on “Number One.” Lines such as, “I’m a rebel just for kicks now,” (from “Feel it Still”) and, “Good kid, bad brains / livin’ for whatever” (from “Easy Tiger”) call into question the mentalities of young people who follow crazes just because they can or because they are perceived as “cool” and “trendy.” That’s the most political this album gets.
For the less lyrical listeners, Woodstock really turns up from “Live in the Moment” onwards. Cuts like “Rich Friends” bring back the Portugal sound from Evil Friends — another quality album. “Tidal Wave” is not to be overlooked either, complete with somber lyrics and a gripping keyboard intro. And“Keep On” has an energy similar to that of “Feel it Still,” with a more low-key, Foster the People sound. “So Young” blends love and worry and rivals “Feel it Still” for best track from the project, and “Mr. Lonely (feat. Fat Lip)” is easily the saddest song, with an unexpectedly good guest verse. The most initially surprising feature is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s appearance on “Noise Pollution” (a very fitting track name for a festival-themed album), considering that Winstead is best known for her work as an actress, in such films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 10 Cloverfield Lane. And, damn, Zoe Manville’s post-chorus vocals just hit the spot.
Honestly, folks, this album gets better with successive listens, and it has a stunning blend of good instrumentals, emotion-stirring vocals and thoughtful lyrics. Personal favorite chorus: “Rich Friends,” featuring the lyrics, “Crashing on Chardonnay and Adderall / driving head on into the Wonderwall / every day holidays when daddy’s gone / livin’ like we’re the only ones that know we’re famous.” Portugal. The Man show no signs of stopping soon — terrific work.