The New Pornographers are sensibility and sense, esoteric lyrics and clarion ooh-ooh harmonies, "Logical Song" gone fizzy and dizzy on a round of power-pop cocktails. Main vocalist and songwriter Carl Newman endows each rambunctious track with a Mod bod and a Zombie brain, then sets it free to rattle around your head for days like an ebullient, eccentric house guest while associate siren Neko Case leaves lipstick traces on the glasses. Their first release, 2000's Mass Romantic, was an elaborately costumed reveler with a bit of prog in her throat; an enchanted Ray Davies gave his endorsement when he joined the Vancouver-born sextet onstage for a cover of "Starstruck," a song he'd never performed live with the Kinks.
On Electric Version, the NPs--whose name can be translated as "rock musicians" in Jimmy Swaggart-speak--don't channel their influences so much as quote, flaunt, and brandish them. Several songs indulge in a Supertramp-branded electric piano, crackerjack drummer Kurt Dahle revives Adam Ant's "Antmusic" on "The New Face of Zero and One," and "Loose Translation" purloins the opening riff of "Suffragette City" whole cloth. Of course, Destroyer frontman and "secret member" Dan Bejar, who contributes three songs, is the crew's most fervent Bowie devotee (check out the children's boogie on "Ballad of a Comeback Kid"), while his sparkling "Testament to Youth in Verse"--with its teasingly rueful tone, choral outro, and Christmastime sleigh bells--sounds custom-fit for the next Wes Anderson movie.
Case's groupie base, no doubt bolstered by last year's transcendent alt-country solo effort Blacklisted, might be disappointed by a smaller supporting role than she played on Mass Romantic. But those happily bemused by Newman's cut-up imagery and rare vowel formations can imagine Electric Version as a collegiate concept album: barnstorming the freshman debate team (on the exhilarating show-Case "Miss Teen Wordpower"), dumping the MD aspirations (on the honeyed garage of "The End of Medicine"), and cramming for math exams ("The New Face of Zero and One"). May they never graduate.
Check out this week's featured ad for Entertainment