Pushing their huge, symphonic aura forward, The Polyphonic Spree’s third album has a more refined, show-tune sound. The rawness that they started with has evolved into a Broadway-esque effort on The Fragile Army. The choral shouting, blaring orchestration, and motivational seminar led by Tim DeLaughter is more polished than ever and loses some of the original charm.
As the sections (songs), reach through their twenties and into the thirties, more precision is used in the arrangements. The first track after the intro, “Running Away” has a tight, chugging melody and echoed pop vocals. The lyrics here and throughout The Fragile Army are as rose-colored as ever (“It’s like running away with the wind in our faces”). The title track is a swinging, piano-based bounce with a brass backbeat and vaulting vocals led mostly by DeLaughter. “Mental Cabaret” is an accelerated psych-pop explosion and “Light To Follow” is more of a low-key ballad that features dancing piano and guitars. The technique used on The Fragile Army is slick and well-executed, but at the cost of some of the innate catchiness in the past.
When their sheer size rocked the indie world in 2003, the Spree used a rough cut and unassumingly anthemic sound. On this third album, they aren’t taking anyone by surprise, unfortunately. They added technical qualities to the music and glossed over the lyrics a little to be more positive and fist-pumping. Where their debut was head-shaking rock, this is pop, and while open-armed in its groupfeel, it’s hard to tell where the pseudo-movement is going. It seems like the band’s functions are becoming more drama club rally-inspired.
Recorded in early 2006, The Fragile Army took a while to release, and begs the question of what the band’s figured out even since then. There’s a distinct gap between what the album is and what it could be, and it’s the thin innocence that the band was founded on. They went from parties and robes to rallies and uniforms, and took the charm with them.