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Backwards to Go Forward


Built to Spill: You in Reverse

Warner Bros., 2006

Rating: 4.0


Posted: April 10, 2006

By Laurence Station

Four albums into its contract with Warner Brothers, we find guitar rock heroes Built to Spill continuing to experiment with discovering that ideal trade-off between tight, suit-pleasing guitar pop gems and expansive, infinity symbol-looping jam sessions. Whereas 2001’s compact and catchy Ancient Melodies of the Future followed in the vein of 1999’s Keep it Like a Secret, You in Reverse, the band’s sixth release (discounting 2000’s Live), strives for the epic guitar-rock nirvana sought (and nearly attained) by 1997’s Perfect From Now On.

The difference with the nearly decade-on Reverse is that lead ax-man, lyricist and singer Doug Martsch more artfully inserts the appealing hooks of Secret and Ancient Melodies in between the ad nauseam guitar solos. Peak moment “Conventional Wisdom” achieves the strongest synthesis between these elements, managing to serve up distinct melodies while blazing away with unhinged abandon. The opener (and longest cut) “Goin' Against Your Mind” provides the strongest link to Perfect-era Built to Spill, mixing titanic fuzz-rock excursions with cosmically tinged lyrics (“When I was a kid I saw a light / Floating high above the trees one night / God was an alien / Turned out to be just God”).

“Gone” is less obvious in approach, being more emotionally expressive in its lyrical content and relying on smoothly integrated organ fills to complement the intricate guitar parts before cleverly fading out at the end. The Middle Eastern-inflected “Mess With Time,” meanwhile, relies on slithery guitar lines and a colossal rhythm section to augment Martsch’s affected, chant-like vocals.

Reverse also features some appealing misdirection. “Just a Habit” starts out slow and modest before closing with a superb, white-hot solo by guitarist Brett Netson. Album closer “The Wait” sounds like a less engaging variation on Ancient Melodies’ finale “The Weather,” but earns distinction thanks to tastefully applied echo effects and, naturally, a fiery climax that conveys a last-chance signal forcefully shot through a fathomless void.

Disproving the whole Perfect From Now On maxim, Reverse is not without its divots. The oddball, jam-bereft “Liar” emphasizes comparatively straightforward chord progressions against an interesting rumination on Mother Nature doing just fine despite nettlesome human intrusion (“Mother Nature’s disposition / She don’t mind, she don’t care”) , while “Saturday” -- the rare, sub-three minute Built to Spill track -- turns out to be, paradoxically, the most plodding, though it does segue nicely into the more robust “Wherever You Go.”

Ultimately, You in Reverse is more a refinement than an evolution of Built to Spill’s sound. Fortunately for those inclined to guitar rock, it’s a great sound. On the aforementioned “Conventional Wisdom,” Martsch humorously observes “Some things never change / Something’s got to change that”. That’s You in Reverse in a nutshell: an apt tune-up instead of a complete overhaul of something far from broken.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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