Swimming in the shallow end
A Pill For Loneliness is the sixth studio album by City and Colour, following on from the success of the chart-topping 2015 album If I Should Go Before You. It’s a big feat to reach number one, though an even bigger feat to produce something better and bolder for the follow-up. A Pill For Loneliness may struggle to dwarf its predecessor, but at the same time, it may just open some new doors for Dallas Green.
Green has always bent musical genres, such that he attempts to bring versatility into his sound like few other artists strive so significantly to do. Unfortunately, A Pill For Loneliness kind of conforms to one genre and one genre only – a pop/acoustic mash-up, not overly popularized, though very far from anything alternative. It’s an easy way out, avoiding the scrutiny that mega pop artists usually face, while still making music that could appeal to their audiences. Even the title loses any chance at establishing a seriously personal or profound precedent for this album to be considered by unless you’re a moody teenager looking for the one-time cure to the impending burden of youth. The record sits in the shallow end all the way through, barely bobbing above average, and sadly so.
“Living in Lighting” plays on a simple melody, all too much like the hundreds of mainstream melodies we’ve heard before, and the composition is simply normal. Unless you’re Taylor Swift (or the equivalent), artists cannot expect to be taken seriously within the music industry if they’re playing it safe. “Astronaut” carries on in this way, bringing with it much of the same elementary composition and unexciting production. This is not to say that the tracks are bad, they’re pretty agreeable, with some nice instrumental moments, and of course, Green’s kindred vocal delivery. But the core of these tracks is nothing new – take the outro of “Astronaut” and you’re onto something, give it to the rest of the record and you’ve lost it all.
“Imagination” pushes the boundaries a bit further forwards, all thanks to the stunted yet repetitive drum underplay. The bass follows on similarly and keeps the track running till the very end. It’s like we’re waiting for something that never comes, and it works. Mystery can do a lot for a song, and when that mystery becomes more than musical or lyrical, when it becomes a feeling, then we’re onto something good.
“Me and The Moon” is a restrained creation by Green, and once again, it works well because it’s one of the few points on the record where we feel like there’s something intimate to be discovered. It’s an unpredictable track, and it means something. We can’t say what it means, or why we know it means something, but we just do. That’s music when you hear, you know, and when you know, you listen.
Unfortunately tracks like “Difficult Love’ and “Strangers” taint the album, and while they may be to the liking of many listeners, they’re not the creations that are going to become memorable. Where’s the difference in sound? Where’s the vitality? Green peaks at it, with lilting synths and euphoric riffs, but once again, he does not dive deep enough.
The record ends with “Lay Me Down,” in six-minutes of solitude. Green regains his musical identity with this sensitive creation, and maybe even proves to us that he is, in fact, capable of honing in on the integral qualities of his artistry, and refining his attack rather than generalizing it. Hopefully, we get to hear more of this in the future, because it’s a side to him that we’re all curious to experience. City and Colour can open any door it wants to, now it’s just down to picking the right one.