Some of Pete Yorn‘s detractors refer to him as “Pete Yawn,” and the derisive name has fit a little too well over the course of his career. The singer/songwriter has sounded a bit bored himself on the sensitive-guy mush that at times bogs down his albums.
Compared against this body of work, Yorn’s fifth, self-titled solo studio disc sounds all the more refreshing. On the taut, 11-song set — cranked out on a whim in five days, with the Pixies‘ Frank Black producing — Yorn exudes the energy and verve of his ballyhooed 2001 release, musicforthemorningafter, and recalls why that debut album was so well-received. Some of these recordings aren’t so eloborately crafted (though the earnest, polished “Stronger Than” would surely fit on an earlier album), and that is to be expected. But in the spirit of this project’s spontaneity, they are more than sufficient.
The raw “Badman,” with its ragged riffs and spoken-shouted vocals, feels a tad tossed-off, but in this context, it works. The important thing is that Yorn sounds revitalized. The simplistic blueprint employed here — layered guitars prominent in the mix, stripped-down production, bare-bones drum tracks — does more than enhance the off-the-cuff vibe. It also puts Yorn’s hooks front and center, right from the opening strains of leadoff track “Precious Stone,” as catchy and saccharine a love song as he has penned.
Also striking on Pete Yorn (Vagrant Records) is that Yorn flashes a bit of wit and humor, elements sorely lacking in his previous work. “Velcro Shoes” is a childhood flashback to having worn the ubiquitous ’80s footwear. On “Rock Crowd,” Yorn would have us believe he is a nervous wreck without his adoring audiences (“I feel glad when you all surround me/It’s you, it’s you who grounds me/When you’re done put me back where you found me”), and he plays the part well, with uneasy, frog-in-his-throat vocals — one of several performances on the album that showcase
Yorn singing clearly and passionately, getting away from his warbling tendencies.
Maybe it was the collaboration with Black, or a simply a desire to cut loose after last year’s sleepy Back & Fourth that seems to have sparked Yorn (and it’s probably no coincidence that this his first effort for an independent label, after four records with Sony). In any case, Pete Yorn is the sound of him fulfilling a lyric from this disc: “Play me a song, sing your heart out.”
— By George Henn