Last week was a big week for Gotye, with covers on The Voice, American Idol and Glee and a live performance on SNL. Following the SNL performance, which started with an “Oh, that guy!” from my wife and I, I picked up the full album Making Mirrors. Gotye’s voice and musical style oscillates between Sting and Sufjan Stevens, but he’s at his best when he’s channeling Sting.
The title track is a throwaway 1 minute intro. A lot of artists seem to like to do this as a way of introducing the theme of the record, but few of them do it well, and Gotye is no exception. This is where the Sufjan Stevens influence seems at its most aggravated. (If you want to hear a good intro track, though in a different genre, try Sara Bareilles’ Kaleidoscope Heart).
But things get much better from here on in. Track 2, “Easy Way Out”, is an upbeat rock piece that reminds me of Beatles harmonies on the chorus, and leads right into best known track “Somebody that I used to know.” This track is pure Sting, crossed with a little Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver influence. There’s a real contrast between the soft emotional story told at the beginning to the outburst of the chorus that really grabs the attention right at the moment you might be drifting away. I equally enjoy the duet, which at first I thought was the girl the man is singing to but is in fact his current girlfriend basically saying, “why are you thinking so much about your ex?” Track 4,”Eyes Wide Open” the other track performed on SNL, equally seems Sting influenced and is enjoyable if not as emotionally charged.
Track 5 brings in a jazz, bluesy feel, with a driving drum beat underneath, and more haunting xylophone up top. Tracks 6 and 7 return to the more upbeat feel, with Track 7 “In Your Light”, invoking a little Paul Simon. For an album whose best known track is about someone who can’t get over an ex ignoring them, the album is surprisingly upbeat, but I think this serves Gotye well. Adele’s hit 21, while no doubt an excellent album, drives the same tone again and again, with few upbeat moments to pull the listener up from the doldrums. Some have criticized Gotye’s album for being too eclectic, but I think this is wise. An album of “Somebody that I used to know’s” would not be nearly as interesting.
Track 8 seems to both parody and praise the influence of technology on music. One of the funny things about watching the SNL performance was watching someone actually play a xylophone, while at the same time watching other synth sounds be controlled from an iPad.
The last 4 tracks are the weakest of the album, though there are still high points. Track 9 “Don’t Worry We’ll Be Watching You” and Track 10 “Giving Me A Chance” reminds me a little of Massive Attack and seems far more influenced by electronic music’s mellower moments. Albums do usually have a rise and fall, but these tracks tend more toward putting the listener to sleep than anything. Track 11 “Save Me” brings back the Sting with a reggae feel and in my opinion would be a better finisher than Track 12 “Bronte”. “Bronte” reverts to the Sufjan Stevens influence and leaves the listener mellowed out rather than energized.
Overall the album lived up to what I had heard on SNL, a show I don’t typically watch for the musical performances. Gotye knows how to perform live, their sound in no way diminished without the benefits of technology as many modern acts are. The album was well worth the price of $5 I paid on Amazon, though I’d hope that future albums embrace what works on this album and not what doesn’t.