“Any ol’ shmuck can be a rockstar,” Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros once said. And in a sense, that’s probably true. While any ol’ shmuck may not be able to write truly original music, the chillwave phenomenon alone serves as a testament to the power of nostalgia to bolster an artist’s career. But whereas chillwave drew on New Wave, Ebert’s Edward Sharpe draws on ‘70s folk, family bands and a time when cruising the country in a van full of your friends, wearing flowy muslin clothing and daisy chains, seemed like a viable career option.
And for Ebert and Co., since 2009, it actually has been. Buoyed by widespread popularity of their single, “Home,” Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros have been doing just that. Reports of their live shows are all “It’s all happening, man” moments and jam circles. And their sophomore album, Here, is chock-full of sing-alongs, nods to bygone greats and one very unfortunate inclusion of a didgeridoo. But without the experiential aspect of the live show, Here fails to inspire.
It’s not that the album isn’t quite pretty. Ebert comes out of the gate with “Man on Fire,” adopting the affect of the Man in Black in his later years, accompanied by acoustic guitar, standing bass and a chorus of voices softly ooh-ing. “I want the whole damn world / to come dance with me,” he croons, and he means it. One thing you can say for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros—they are refreshingly irony-free.
Many of the tracks sound like homages to luminaries of the ‘70s. “Mayla” could easily have been a hymn penned by George Harrison, while “Dear Believer” calls to mind Carole King’s “Ferguson Road,” updated for modern times by the inclusion of lyrics about making “anger my bitch.” The songs may all be genuinely felt, but in filtering their sincerity through the lens of musical styles so firmly entrenched in the cultural psyche as someone else’s, the tracks lose their sense of emotional urgency. Here winds up an album of originals, sung by the people who wrote them, but somehow resembling more than anything else a campfire sing-along of someone else’s songs.