The sideshow is leaving town. Beirut’s latest offering sounds like the final show of a fading circus group – mournful, certainly, but nonetheless triumphant and stately. Though the official press release calls it ‘sunny’, it is probably best to think ‘autumn glow’ rather than ‘tropical explosion’ – and far more important to know that it is actually really quite good, and best of all, a joy to listen to. At only 33 minutes in length, Zach Cordon and his crew of merry revelers have produced a perfect and very cohesive miniature that punches far above its weight, avoiding some of the more sprawling tendencies of greener releases.
At least part of this is due to the restraint exercised in the writing. While contemporaries like Arcade Fire are moving out and up, Beirut’s sound favours maturity over transgression, and is none the worse for it. Cordon abandons electronic frippery and goes back to Baroque-styled basics with piano, ukelele and horn, only occasionally yielding to the understandable charms of the pipe organ. The product is a rich, intelligent and sensitive album, although, with fewer experimental touches, one more likely to appeal to the masses. This is pop. More obvious earwigs (‘Santa Fe’) will nestle easily in mainstream radio, while gentler vintage Beirut (‘Goshem’) ensures that diehard folkies are unlikely to be alienated.
Though it plays like the soundtrack to the last act of The Most Wonderful Show on Earth, I suspect that this will not be the final stop for Beirut, and that there are still greater things to come. Do not be deceived by the very plain cover: you are unwrapping a brown paper parcel. For all its size, this is certainly not a ‘minor’ work, and one that should not pass you by. Don’t let it leave town without you.