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The Rosebuds - Birds Make Good Neighbors

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Artist: The Rosebuds

Album: Birds Make Good Neighbors

Label: Merge

Review date: Oct. 23, 2005

With their second full-length, Birds Make Good Neighbors, Merge Records’ love-pop powerhouse the Rosebuds have found an almost-perfect symbiosis between their songs’ fragile verse-chorus structures and Brian Paulson’s delicate production. Nothing here is as punchy or infectious as Make Out’s “Boys Who Love Girls,” or Unwind’s “You Better Get Ready,” but the bangers aren’t missed; Birds Make Good Neighbors finds a lovely, whisper-quiet continuity to supplant the unevenness of these previous efforts.

Unabashed in their mission “to sing bravely about love,” married couple Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard have composed 11 tracks as much about bravery as they are about love; while lyrics on their previous efforts have erred toward the cloying, Birds Make Good Neighbors finds them restraining. But luckily, they remain unafraid of handclaps, oohs, la-las, and bum-bums, so their choruses remain as exuberant as ever.

Though a few of the bouncier numbers suffer from flat production (“Leaves Do Fall,” “Outnumbered”), the first track “Hold Hands and Fight” succeeds, changing on a dime from languid to foot-stomping. “Boxcar” follows with a jangly guitar line that improves upon Make Out’s “Back To Boston.” As much a mission statement as the band’s website manifesto, the song’s hook references and inverts the hook from (of all places!) “Unwell,” Matchbox 20’s massive hit from a few years back. But where Rob Thomas sang with pidgin irony “I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell,” Howard cries “I’m not crazy, I’m just a little boy”: while the commercially successful cynic embraces his assumed neurosis, the Rosebud defiantly celebrates his childlike joy.

Later, the delicate ballad “Wildcat” appropriates the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks” to similar effect. Howard’s whispering tenor again inverts the hook’s original intent: rather than celebrating brash, youthful lust “all through the night,” he sings, “teenage kids can’t do it right.” While the Undertones (like so many others) idealize the hormone-driven, rock ‘n’ roll fantasy of teenage romance, the Rosebuds refuse to falsely idealize the past; instead, they favor the calm innocence and strength that accompanies unglamorous “grown-up” love.

Other highlights include “Blue Bird,” a wistful ballad Sam Beam might sing, but for its optimism; “Shake Our Tree,” which triumphs with the call-and-response, campfire sing-a-long structure that failed “Leaves Do Fall” earlier; and “Let Us Go,” which is perhaps Howard’s shining moment – the extended phrasing and whispery counter-melody shows off his powerful voice.

But the slight and simple ballad “Warm Where You Lay” is the best the Rosebuds have to offer, combining Howard’s purest vocals with sentiments that would have been too much elsewhere: “I’ve got all I need, and it’s right here next to me.” Here, as on most of Birds Make Good Neighbors, the Rosebuds combine hooks, textures, and delicate production to create perfect pop songs that are at once fragile and unafraid.

By Anna Bond

Other Reviews of The Rosebuds

Make Out

The Rosebuds Unwind

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