Album Review: Portugal. The Man, “Evil Friends”

Evil Friends

Portugal. The Man showed up on my radar while I was studying in Germany in 2011, when a friend recommended the song “People Say” to me over Skype. It remains one of my favorite protest songs of the past decade, its bouncy “classic rock” vibe belying the bitingly ironic, antiwar lyrics. I’ve only recently investigated their catalog in greater detail, which means that I have some catching up to do – the band has released an album a year since their 2006 debut, an almost unheard-of feat in today’s musical landscape (though it was the norm forty years ago). The band’s annual release for this year is Evil Friends (2013), and for other newcomers to Portugal. The Man, it’s as strong and as accessible an entry-point as anything in their catalog.

Other reviewers have made much of the fact that hip-hop auteur Danger Mouse is in the producer’s chair for this record. For me it’s a mixed blessing; sonically, Evil Friends sports the too-thin, too-loud sound of too-many records these days, lacking the punch of even previous Portugal. The Man albums. For instance, “Atomic Man” features a massive riff and a delightfully nasty hook: “After you, I don’t know what I believe in/After you, Hell should be easy.” I have little doubt that the song will achieve epic proportions in a live setting, liberated from its brittle digital production. It’s hardly a deal-breaker—the songs are too good—but it doesn’t serve the band’s busy arrangements particularly well, which call for a more robust analog aesthetic.

To the extent that Danger Mouse is responsible for those busy arrangements, however, his presence is a boon to this record. From the funky psychedelia of “Purple Yellow Red & Blue” to the arena-ready bombast of “Waves” to the orchestrated Beatles-isms of “Someday Believers,” there’s a lot happening here, both stylistically and instrumentally. But it’s never excessive, always serving the songs rather than smothering them. The glue that holds the set together is John Gourley’s expressive, falsetto-prone vocals; for Evil Friends is an album that soars on its choruses, for instance on the electronica-tinged highlight “Modern Jesus”:

Don’t pray for us
We don’t need no modern Jesus
To roll with us
The only rule we need is never
Giving up
The only faith we have is faith in us

Twin themes of religious and relational disillusionment seems to run throughout much of the record, contrasting with the feel-good pop-psych vibe of Portugal. The Man’s earlier efforts.

As if to drive the point home, Evil Friends closes with a minor epic entitled “Smile,” whose title belies its downbeat lyrics. Even so, after hearing an album this well-written and well-crafted, I find it hard to imagine the listener doing anything but grinning. Portugal. The Man are clearly indebted to rock’s extensive back catalog, but this is no nostalgia trip. Rather, they update classic sounds with a 21st century ethos, resulting in one of the better new albums I’ve heard this year. Highly recommended.

8/10

Buy it here. Spotify it here.

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3 Responses to Album Review: Portugal. The Man, “Evil Friends”

  1. Pingback: Best Albums of 2013 | Mikethatmiller

  2. Pingback: Tom’s Top 10 of 2013 | Revolutions Per Minute

  3. Pingback: Album Review: Broken Bells, “After the Disco” | Revolutions Per Minute

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