Broken Bells: Great on record, greater on 'Letterman'
Over the course of my career, I’ve slapped “best album of the year!!!” hyperbole on a few LPs that, in cringey retrospect, weren’t. But I’ve never second-guessed my gushing over 2010’s Broken Bells, the eponymous debut from super-producer Danger Mouse and super-saddo James Mercer. Mr. Mouse, better known as the taller, thinner one in Gnarls Barkley, and Mr. Mercer, better known as the Shins singer who made Zach Braff cry in Garden State, perfectly captured old-school AM loneliness in a new-school FM world. My knees still buckle at the song Vaporize.
Alas, the American duo’s four-years-later followup, the new After the Disco, released today, is not the best album of the year. It’s definitely worth your listening time, mind you; these sonic whiz-kids could make stomping on pine cones sound lush. But whereas Broken Bells, with bittersweet sorta-hit The High Road, had a beautifully unsettling Sunday-in-the-’70s feel, After the Disco vaults them into a grander, postpunky ’80s-ness, all style, not as much substance. Broken Bells are still pretty sad; they just don’t seem that sad about it.
Still, these guys are mad-scientists when it comes to sound, and warrant all attention. Danger Mouse made his name with The Grey Album, mashing up Jay-Z and the Beatles. And this week that came in handy: Check out their recent Letterman gig, in which they were asked, in honor of Dave's spot in the history Ed Sullivan Theater and all the Fab anniversary hoopla, to cover a Beatles song. It's And I Love Her with a little help from I Am the Walrus -- and it's awesome.