The Opposite is True
llow me, for a moment, to judge The Opposite is True, by its cover: post-college Caucasian, bored. Glossy, candy-apple red packaging. Album and song titles—“Sunbeam,” “Too Much Love”—delivered in cartoon clouds. I’m leaning heavily towards power-pop here, same vein as Matthew Sweet, possibly Alex Chilton or A.C. Newman.
Imagine the surprise, then, when “Black Swan,” the album’s first song, opens with a tender folk melody and Morning Star frontman Jesse Vernon placidly intoning, “Where the black swan goes to cry / I will meet my love and lie / On a bed of yellow lilies / We will wash ourselves with tears.” No hint of irony or humor. No careening power chords, vocal harmonies, or clever lyrics.
Vernon, as it turns out, is no power-pop mastermind, but rather a veteran of the Bristol music scene, a guitarist/composer/singer that has logged time in bands, opened a studio with Portishead bassist Jim Barr, and has now released his third album under the Morning Star label. The Opposite is True feels like the work of a music scene veteran: It scatters so aimlessly across genres and carries such a lack of pretense that it must be the product of someone for whom releasing an album is no longer a life-altering event.
Indeed, Vernon seems to realize that The Opposite is True will change neither modern music nor his place in it. This is perhaps why he feels comfortable lining up a too serious folk ballad like “Black Swan” next to the tropicalia-inspired pop of “Great Day,” next to the meandering, orchestral “Newt Love.”
Vernon’s shape shifting never feels hammy or irreverent, but it does leave The Opposite is True in an awkward place. The album, not surprisingly, neither establishes an identity nor builds enough momentum to force listeners to overlook a lyrical misstep or melodic snag. Each song feels isolated, a product of its creator’s whim, rather than a component of something more fulfilling.
The songs themselves are by no means failures. “Cuckoo,” a re-working of an English folk tune, feeds off a robust, gothic arrangement. “Going Home” adds clarinet and trumpet to an otherwise straightforward country twang. The title track is oddly compelling, with a disinterested female mouthing the song title mockingly after every Vernon line.
None of these individual triumphs, however, is enough to overcome the pot-luck feel of The Opposite is True. For every moment of ingenuity, there is a sterile genre exercise (the jazz-soul of “Too Much Love”) or a pedestrian tune that stays well past its welcome (the five minutes of “Breaking Through a Wave”). Vernon long ago carved his place in the Bristol scene; his Morning Star releases feel more like personal fancy than a major musical statement or journey. They are skillful representations of a wily veteran, but The Opposite is True is too scattershot and frustrating to truly recommend.