Not worth trying to deduce its intentions
A band cannot release 16 albums without a few duds, especially when engineered by a mad, boundary-pushing genius like Kurt Wagner. The Bible goes even further into disparate abstract territory than Trip and repeats a lot of the orchestral darkness from Showtunes. Despite a promising start and pretty moments, the album hampers itself with a lot of auto-tune and jarring shifts that shatter any attempted atmosphere.
The opening does its part by setting an effective scene. “His Song is Sung” repeats the best tones from Showtunes with tasteful symphonic melancholy, rising to a fever pitch only to shrink back and return with single piano notes. Wagner enters using his soft, sensitive croon to describe a visit to his sickly father. It’s a start to a beautifully composed moment that sadly does not keep up the interest for the entire track length. However, it’s still the best song on the record.
Any coherent mood is almost immediately squashed by the following track, “Little Black Boxes,” a slice of electronic funk a la Daft Punk with groovy basslines and glitchy electronics. The lyrics resemble “I Melt With You” in describing a post-apocalyptic love scene, and the evocative writing deserves better than a repetitive refrain delivered in soulful backing vocals that do not in any way mesh with Wagner’s vocals. It’s a shame because there are songs that bridge the chasm between dance music and piano ballads. “Whatever Mortal” and “Police Dog Blues” make this bizarro vision come close to clicking with great horn work and weaving of the piano through the groove, though they are still hampered by the baffling approach to vocals.
Wagner makes the bold decision to slather most of his vocals throughout the album in suffocating auto-tune or echo. In isolation, the effect can work to emphasize detachment or alienation. “Dylan at the Mousetrap,” perhaps the most abstract song here, utilizes the digitization to enhance the disparate lyrics and the clearly broken mental state of its POV character. It gets old when used on nearly every song, and it’s jarring against the guest female vocals that are crisp and clear and lack any chemistry. The album on the whole is not lush, electronic or psychedelic enough for his voice to naturally fit in. A lot of the percussion is programmed, and songs like “Every Child Begins the World Again” are dominated by eerie backing melodies that gel with the vocal treatment. However, these same songs will feature gleaming clean pianos or mournful horns that imply a more organic feel.
Excluding all of its other missteps, the biggest crime of The Bible is simply being boring. There’s not enough here to justify five and six-minute long songs. While there is evolution across the compositions, they do little to inspire any interest. Even “So There” throwing in tapping percussion and handclaps in its final leg does not save the ending from dragging out. “Dylan at the Mousetrap” is the only time where the album resembles a country or folk record, but the sudden emergence of pedal steel is not good enough to justify a minute and a half of synthesized humming. The music all sounds nice, but there’s never a fully realized song where every decision and element makes sense.
The album is clearly not meant to be taken on a surface level. There’s probable intention behind the sudden shouting of “hey” on “Daisy.” But there needs to be enough to make the listener want to dig below the surface, and The Bible does not succeed in enticing listeners to wrestle with its madness.