Owl City has single-handedly changed the landscape of pop music over the years, consistently putting out some of the best music the genre has these days. Even when The Midsummer Station came out and fell a little short of expectations, he was still doing pop music better than most modern artists. Last year's Ultraviolet EP was no exception, nor is his fourth national full-length album, Mobile Orchestra. Full of catchy tunes and lots of surprises, 2015's musical offerings are getting a little bit sweeter this summer.
Admittedly, while I really enjoy this album, it has its fair share of misses; the opening song is one of them. The current single, "Verge," gets us started with an upbeat groove, and it even starts with guest vocalist Aloe Blacc (who you might know from Avicii's big 2013 single "Wake Me Up"). The song is fun and danceable, but overall it feels empty and repetitive, like one big chorus over and over again. "Bird With A Broken Wing," while a stronger offering than "Verge," has kind of a strange structure. The verses almost seem like they were all originally supposed to be the song's bridge, but some rewriting morphed them into verses. It's hard to explain exactly why it seems this way, and it's probably not correct, but hopefully it will make sense when you listen to the song. Additionally, the country song "Back Home" and the album's closer, "This Isn't The End" (which also closed Ultraviolet) are rather weak tracks, though they're both still fairly enjoyable.
The rest of the tracklist is a bit of a mixed bag. Not to stir up a debate here, but there's a stigma of "old" Owl City versus "new" Owl City. "Old" Owl City was abstract, dreamy, lush, and full of sometimes-confusing metaphors; "new" Owl City is much, much less of that, and a lot more radio-friendly and accessible. Mobile Orchestra seems to strike a decent balance between the two, leaning more toward "new" Owl City, but not quite as much as The Midsummer Station. "I Found Love" is perhaps the closest thing we get to Ocean Eyes; set to music along the same pace as something like "Vanilla Twilight," Adam Young delicately sings about God's love: "So lead me home and lift me up above the stars and even higher, I'm not afraid because Your love, it falls like rain and burns like fire."
Regardless of your preference between "old" and "new" Owl City, there are definite gems on Mobile Orchestra. "Unbelievable" may end up being this reviewer's personal favorite, if only for the fact that it uses the power of nostalgia (and puns) to win its audience over. First of all, it features Hanson - yes, the same Hanson that melted your mind with "MMMBop" in the 90s. Secondly, it's all about the 90s. Young sings, "When I was a kid I ate Spaghettios, played laser tag and G.I. Joe, and if you vowed 'no girls allowed,' then you could join the club, when I was a kid I spent my Saturdays blowing on Nintendo games, the newest thing was Lion King, and I could feel the love." One of the Hanson brothers also gives us a knee-slapper: "When I was a kid I still had VHS, watched Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff, Zach Morris owned the first cell phone, it was off the hook." Oddly enough, "Unbelievable" reminds me an awful lot of The Midsummer Station's "Good Time," but rest assured, this is a much better time. "Thunderstruck" - which is NOT an AC/DC cover - is a solid dance pop piece that's vaguely about the love of God, and both "My Everything" and "You're Not Alone" are both decent songs that are also made-for-radio. The last two feature the most outspoken Christian lyrics of any officially-released Owl City material yet; the latter of these even features Christian pop sensation Britt Nicole. They sound like radio songs, and they're very straightforward lyrically, but Owl City does well with it.
In the end, Owl City's latest effort is another solid pop album to add to his discography and your record collection. Adam Young is a truly remarkable artist in today's pop scene; if the scene is the rough, then Mobile Orchestra is a big, fat, shiny diamond. Exploring a plethora of different genres and topics, it has something for almost everyone. It's far different than Ocean Eyes and All Things Bright and Beautiful, but that's okay. It's still worth your time if you've ever been a fan of Young and his endeavors.- Preview Review date: 5/16/15; Review date: 6/30/15, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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