Challengers - Review and Discussion Times!


21. Aug. 2007, 4:06

So Pitchfork stamps the album with a 6.0 and kicks dirt on top of my $30 preorder (plus poster!), and other The New Pornographers fans seem unapologetic in agreement. I don't get these people. Challengers is the only album of the band's that I can listen to all the way through. Heck, Electric Version's songs all sounded exactly the same until about five more listens. Now it's only about four of the songs that bear any repeating for me.

Don't get me wrong - I love the energetic stuff. I've played Twin Cinema, The Laws Have Changed, and others at least 50 times, but the rest of the album is filled with what seems to be either filler or just... boring songs, like Three or Four.

Challengers just seems to have slowed down the band just so that they can really dig in with more poignant hooks than an engulfing rush of ecstasy. Look at the title track. Challengers is calm, quiet, and absolutely beautiful. Sure, Dan sounds goofy on The Spirit Of Giving, but it's one of their best songs, ever.

Now to Pitchfork:

The Pornographers have dallied with this sound-- "The Bones of an Idol," for instance-- but only as contrast betwixt the power-pop sugar-highs. Now those up-beat moments are themselves the contrast, rather than the focus, and Challengers sags because of it.

In layman's terms, "because it's not their energetic pop music, it's bad." Oh boo hoo, their music is different. Look at XTC or Talking Heads or The Beatles. Their music changed radically over their careers and yet More Songs About Buildings and Food gets high marks along with Remain in Light. Fans find the goodness in both albums. Just because you love The Beatles' pop songs about love and girlfriends and love and love doesn't mean that epics like I Am the Walrus are far too different, and thus, bad. So what if you don't like it? It doesn't make it bad music.

Challengers isn't perfect, but it's damn good. Four-and-a-half stars.


  • lazydavid

    I have to disagree on all points. Songs like Three or Four, or any of their songs for that matter, are really just growers. At first they might sound boring, but later you find you can't get enough. It took me only a few listens, though, to start really enjoying every single track on Twin Cinema. Challengers is a much different story. AMG really nailed it for me: [i]While it's true that the New Pornographers' albums are always growers, records that unveiled their gifts over time, but Challengers is their biggest grower yet, a dense collection of carefully constructed pop and brain power pop where even the liveliest song, “All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth,” is a tense, nervous cacophony of ideas and riffs that doesn't grab hold, it plants a seed which later blooms.[/i] Now, onto the title track. This was, honestly, the first New Pornographers song I've been severely disappointed with. Some of my favorite moments on Twin Cinema are the ones where Neko takes lead vocals, such as The Bones of an Idol or These Are the Fables. This time around, it's just so bland. The album is just really lacking a Neko song, because Failsafe is just as boring and uninspired. Challengers just seems to have slowed down the band just so that they can really dig in with more poignant hooks than an engulfing rush of ecstasy. I think they've really tuned down the hooks and, with that, the excitement as well. This is where I agree with Pitchfork. I miss the energetic stuff. Yes, bands change, and I always look forward to that change. That's not the point. Sometimes the change is refreshing and satisfying, such as Architecture in Helsinki's new sound on their upcoming album, and sometimes it's quite disappointing, such as with Challengers. Don't get me wrong, I like Challengers. It took at least 15 listens to actually start enjoying it. The songs have some great moments, that's not the problem. The problem is that those moments don't match up to anything they've done previously. If I were to listen to Sing Me Spanish Techno or The Bleeding Heart Show, then move onto songs like My Rights Versus Yours, it's just no contest. Overall, I'd give it a 3/5.

    22. Aug. 2007, 0:59
  • Mavhunter

    See, I can never get into songs that fans (and yourself included) really praise like Three or Four or Sing Me Spanish Techno. They just don't do anything for me, whereas others like Broken Breads or The Jessica Numbers really pull me in. And hey, I don't disagree you on the Neko part. Go Places is a bit boring, but it sounds like one of those burner tracks and Failsafe is more about Calder than Neko, anyway. Great reply, thanks!

    22. Aug. 2007, 1:13
  • raceofdoom

    challengers is pretty disappointing to me. i'd have to agree on your point that it takes awhile to like their older stuff, and i also agree that the new record doesn't take as long, which is indeed a plus. but it's all slightly boring, and seems to lack a lot of the magic that the earlier, sometimes annoying records had. especially their first, mass romantic. granted, it took me a year and a half to actually even begin to like the thing, but now i love it and challengers seems bland and uninspired by comparison. it seems confused, muddled; kind of like how some loud thunder by clap your hands was for me. and honestly, challengers as a new sound for an established band is no way equal to talking heads' second/third phase, or xtc's later albums, not to mention the bloody beatles. i am the walrus this record is not, in terms of innovation or overall craft. sorry my response was overly wordy! i'm having trouble explaning myself tonight.

    22. Aug. 2007, 5:13
  • CandaceAlmighty

    I guess my first reaction to Challengers was a bit of surprise. In preparation I'd been listening to Mass Romantic (my personal favorite), a Slow Wonder and Twin Cinema a lot. I agree with Manvhunter that Electric Version was hard to get into. It was their first album i heard and honestly i lost it in my car and wasn't very sad, but after many listens it grew on my. But that's neither here nor there. as far as the new stuff, I hadn't listened to the single much because i wasn't very impressed the first time I heard it on Myspace. So when i started listening to the whole thing I agree with everyone else that this album threw me a bit. However i really enjoy the album. I think different is the watchword. I read some review that used the word 'mature' etc etc which i think is bunk because the older albums never struck me as immature. I guess the play between the more relaxed songs (Challengers) and more upbeat songs (Mutiny, I promise you) really flow well for me. Some of the instrumentation and texture of the album are really pleasing. So, since i haven't necessarily memorized the track titles yet, this may seem a bit vague, but my feeling is different, a bit experimental for them, and a little dissapointing and abrupt after Twin Cinema, but with a band like this that doesn't = bad (like some of my other bands i enjoy who have cast themselves on the trash heap of awful and boring with their new releases aka placebo, NIN, tool) 4 stars

    22. Aug. 2007, 17:27
  • CandaceAlmighty

    sorry to take up more space, but my biggest concern is that after seeing them live i don't know how well this album will play in that arena. The previous three albums are chock full of great live material (especially after hearing the letterman performance which was kind of boring). Thoughts?

    22. Aug. 2007, 17:31
  • lazydavid

    You're right, Mavhunter. I meant to say Go Places rather than Failsafe. My bad.

    22. Aug. 2007, 21:28
  • ruiner2001002

    You bring up when bands made successful changes to their sound, but what about all the ones that didn't? Both Kiss and the Rolling Stones briefly went disco, Leonard Cohen traded in his guitar for a synthesizer, the Jesus and Mary Chain left shoe gazing for straight forward guitar pop, the Sisters of Mercy abandoned their Goth roots in favor of Dance Rock, the Stone Roses delivered one of the worst follow-up records of all time by going Hard Rock, and the less said about Metallica's Load, the better. That said, I don't think it's change that made Highway 61 great and Second Coming awful. To me, change is irrelevant so long as the songwriting is there to support it. The Beatles were able to make their transformation because they had the songwriting chops to make the change work. While I consider Newman to be one of the most promising contemporary songwriters, I don't think his song writing has developed enough to make the kinds of changes he wants to make. There's no question that he can write engaging pop songs, but folk is vastly different from power pop and thus requires a different style of songwriting, something Newman has less experience with. Having said that, I'm curious to see where Newman will go from here and what the next album will sound like.

    23. Aug. 2007, 1:39
  • chronicplutonic

    well pitchfork writers are dicks

    4. Feb. 2008, 12:19
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