Not enough artists over the years have waved the flag for power-pop, an alternate history would-have-been-big style starting in the seventies that is immensely enjoyable, but one of those that has done so are The New Pornographers. The outfit was long a super-group of sorts, almost a western Canadian rejoinder to eastern Canada collectives like Broken Social Scene, with great-in-their-own-right musicians such as A.C. Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar, Kathryn Calder and more. Unfortunately, they’ve been so big & beautiful for so long that it’s started to wear, particularly after Bejar didn’t contribute to last record, 2017’s Whiteout Conditions (QRO review), which at the time was said to be temporary, but now seems permanent. In the Morse Code of Brake Lights is some more great power-pop, even if very similar to longtime fans’ ears.
While Newman is the sole writer now (save one track where Bejar is given co-credit, “Need Some Giants”), he has thankfully kept the multi-vocal channel, particularly the excellent Case, starting with the big opener “You’ll Need a New Backseat Driver”. Yes, this is a big power-pop New Pornographers record, including the grander sweep of “Colossus of Rhodes”, sadder “You Won’t Need Those Where You’re Going”, and the wonderfully sweet & wistful “Opening Ceremony”.
It’s tough to criticize an act for continuing to do well what they’ve long done well, especially when it’s not something that’s common these days. Instead, just be glad that The New Pornographers are still here, and they’re still themselves.