It's a grating habit that the Portland, Oregon-hailing songsmith indulges too often on More Rain, his eighth studio album. The worst such instance occurs on "Confession," where Ward deadpans: "Anybody miss the train of love at the station? / Anybody lose their ticket stub and go home?," oblivious to the line's hammy-ness. "Slow Driving Man," meanwhile, begins with him boldly declaring that, surprise, "This is a song about a slow driving man." Such clunky, earnest sentimentality sullies Ward's otherwise sterling songs. "Slow Driving Man" later features more engaging lyrics about a heart-wrenching car crash, sung in a near-whisper by Ward over a backdrop of melancholy strings, and drumming that lands like falling tears. And just when the listener is all but exasperated by Ward's overwrought symbolism on "Confession," there's a sudden burst of horn playing that's far more lyrical than any of its preceding lines.
Thankfully, "Girl From Conejo Valley" is free of such missteps, and features one of the most distinctive synth riffs in recent memory — a whirring, whining siren drone that's wholly distinctive. The lyrics are equally strong; Ward sings about a former lover riding in a rival suitor's passenger seat with classy, quaint innuendo befitting a Buddy Holly hit. Better still is "Phenomenon," on which Ward yearningly sings about believing in taboo truths, showcasing the effortless grace that "Confession" and "Slow Driving Man" lack.
In these subtler moments, Ward's genius is undeniable; if he employs more of that lighter touch on his follow-up, it'll be the classic that More Rain falls just shy of being. (Merge)