All Things Bright and Beautiful
[Rating: 3 stars]
Adam Young really wants a rocket ship. The man behind Owl City wants one like some rappers want a Maybach, like some indie singers want heartbreak and a secluded cabin in the woods to write about it in.
His new album, All Things Bright and Beautiful, talks about what this rocket ship would be like all the time: space travel this, space travel that. And it’s endearing in a way, something about this childlike fascination in the simple lyrics. “I believe there are beautiful things seen by the astronauts/Wake me if you’re out there,” Young sings on “Angels,” a blasting combination of strings, piano and canned snare hits where the musical melody is very much of this world, but still very, very catchy.
And then there’s “Galaxies,” which features a Europop chorus aimed at a crowd young enough to thankfully not know who the Vengaboys were: “Dear God, I was terribly lost/When the galaxies crossed/And the sun went dark.”
That mix of space-age imagery and synths with old, tried-and-true melodies and song structure sums up Owl City and Adam Young. He was not sent from another planet to make some music critics spontaneous combust in anger. Nor was he cloned from the abducted bodies of The Postal Service, despite his delivery sometimes aping Ben Gibbard so much, it’s endearing in a little brother way. No, he is just a young guy with young guy lyrics making saccharine sweet pop songs and doing it well. So avoid this album if you don’t want all that gloss and sheen, but if you like a little cavity from time to time, Owl City is more than happy to oblige.
“Alligator Sky” is the album’s first single and for good reason. “Where was I when the rockets came to life/And carried you away into the alligator sky?” Young sings. Right when you’re starting to wonder what an alligator sky actually is—smog-filled green and scaly?—up-and-coming rapper Shawn Chrystopher enters and does his best to keep it space-age, a task that can be rather difficult (just ask Kanye on Katy Perry’s “E.T.”) The lyrics are pretty standard—“The concrete and sky switched places/So now my ceiling is painted with cosmic spaces”—but both Chrystopher’s flow and his ability to deliver the words of this cameo like they are actually inspirational makes it work; he will be guesting on these sort of tracks for eons to come.
As for Young, he sings every lyric, no matter how strange, as if it’s all he’s got—another Gibbard-like trait. Sometimes those lyrics are pretty good, too. The album closer, “Plant Life” is the most emotionally vulnerable song on the album, pulling back some of the production to let Young’s words echo over hard-hit piano chords. “Tonight, I’m busting out/Of this haunted house,” he sings, “Because I’m sick of waiting for/All those spider webs to grow all around me/Because I don’t feel dead anymore/And I’m not afraid anymore.”
No fear on this album, none. It’s an all-out emotional outpour, from the ballads to the rockers, a focus that makes sense in its own way. Young knows you can’t be scared if you want to go explore the stars.