completely back and fourth

At first glance, Pete Yorn’s new album, “Back and Fourth,” would seem to be more focused on past relationships than most things philosophical, and it would be hard to argue with that. But there is still more substance lying beneath this thin, accessible veneer. Track-by-track, the album is very strong, which is important considering there are only 10 songs.

It begins easily enough with “Don’t Wanna Cry,” which is one of my least favorite songs out of this group. While it may be just as heartfelt, or even more so, than the other 9 songs, “Don’t Wanna Cry” works too hard to establish the aforementioned surface layer of radio-friendly, heartache-filled lamentations that hold the album back. It’s the kind of song that could be extremely personally applicable at one point but useless the other 70+ years of your life. Well, that might be a bit harsh; the lead-off song is perfectly listenable.

Paradise Cove” is a bit more fun, even if it also largely deals with love. “I got what I wanted when you showed up, I got what I wanted and it wasn’t enough,” the speaker admits; although the first song was also introspective, this track features better writing and dives a bit deeper (pardon the beach-related pun). The honesty in the second half of the song is evidence of Yorn’s maturity as a songwriter – this isn’t your typical love-song. “When you talk, it makes me cringe. You want so bad to have meaning, but you’re empty and draining,” he says. “Your life’s intersected when mine’s disconnected.”

Close” could perhaps be as strong a single as “Don’t Wanna Cry,” with arguably a far more enjoyable chorus. The song also, unsurprisingly, talks of relationships, and does so in the frequently-traversed area of regret and the persistence of time: “I don’t have the time to go back in time – I already lived it…Just stay close; wait for the stars until they realign, just like the first time.” It’s unique enough to differentiate itself from the usual drivel found on the radio, even if the lyrics aren’t as reflective as someone like Sam Beam’s. From a purely entertaining standpoint, this is one of the best songs on the album.

Speaking of Sam Beam, the first three seconds of “Social Development Dance” almost made me think I was listening to Iron & Wine’s “Each Coming Night,” but that deceptive start doesn’t lead to a huge letdown as it very well could. It’s one of the most complex story-songs on the album. The singer tells of his liaisons with a somewhat promiscuous woman, and it ends tragically. There’s honesty here as well, and some beauty to the recollection; he reconciles the mundane and even the shallow and perverse, and manages to construe a recognition and appreciation of more substantive things. This may seem nebulous, but consider a song that juxtaposes lyrics about “Googling in quotes” and “something missing in us, we tried to make it whole…” It is a difficult song to explain and truly warrants a listen.

Shotgun” is another pre-release song most fans will already be aware of. It’s a third choice for airtime on your local radio station, and it’s rather hard to get into the lyrics/themes because of the overly pop-rock-ish tune and gratuitous use of the word “baby,” so I won’t even try. Like “Don’t Wanna Cry,” it’s listenable, and by no means a bad song.

I expected “Last Summer” to be the same version that was on Yorn’s MySpace page long ago, but it turns out that that was a more acoustic version. I think I prefer the unreleased version. This is another more rocking tune, and, like “Close,” it talks of not being able to “go back again, to repeat what we once had.” We’ve all been there, Pete. You’ll be OK. In my estimation, it’s one of the few forgettable tracks on the album.

Thinking of You” is a pretty simple song with some good instrumentation, and picks the album back up a bit. While it may be lyrically weak (“I’ve been thinking of you a lot this morning, for the 57,000th time today” – really?), the uncontrollable nature of our existence is another common theme (“I can’t change anything”). From a musical standpoint, I enjoy this song quite a bit.

Country” is fairly standard fare. It continues the honesty of other songs; “I can never love you like the way you love me…These are things I can’t ignore.” These lines are reminiscent of “All At Once.” Still, there’s something pleasant about its tone, and it made me smile to hear the allusions to “Just Another” made during the closing beats. Plus, I like the thought of living in the country, so I’m partial to this one.

I don’t know if “Four Years” is about Pete Yorn’s personal maturation, but it basically just talks about someone finding himself, even if that development is not readily apparent to others. The chorus is memorable and cheery.

I discussed “Long Time Nothing New after it played during an episode of some show. It remains one of my favorites among this collection, and it’s even better without the voice-over from the CW.

As a pre-order bonus, the song “Rooftop” is included. I scoffed at this initially since I’ve had that song for years (near the release of his first album), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is a completely remade version. It’s even more mellow than the original version and the slower pacing feels quite nice, and it fits in well with the other songs. It would probably be one of my favorites on the album if it were truly, properly included.

It could be easy to under-appreciate this album. It’s not Yorn’s best, but it’s far from his worst, and, with 10 tracks, the emphasis was clearly on quality over quantity. It seems that Yorn has really stressed honesty in his songwriting and moved away from the generic filler-songs that dotted some of his first three efforts. For the effort put in and the introspection involved, this is a solid composition that should not be ignored. Music can be profoundly affective when it coincides with certain events in a listener’s life, and I imagine that “Back and Fourth” has the potential to be influential for the right people. For those who are not currently lovelorn, there’s still a lot here to enjoy.

You can currently listen to “Back and Fourth” in its entirety on Pete Yorn’s MySpace page, then buy the album on (preferably) Amazon or, if you must, iTunes.

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