In what is considered to be a step away from Beirut’s 2011 The Rip Tide, an album widely acclaimed for its distinctive orchestral melodies, the band now finds itself moving towards a more generic indie pop sound in their fourth studio album No No No. Owing to its blending of Balkan, French and Mexican elements, Beirut’s previous LPs defined the band as “world music.” No No No, however, cannot be labeled as such, for it is not only more simplistic in terms of its composition but also somewhat more catchy than its predecessors.
One would normally think that an album recorded during one of the lowest points of an artist’s life would produce a rather gloomy sound. Yet No No No is actually quite light and upbeat in both its lyrics and melodies. The album manages to stay within the confines of its main theme, love, which seems to have pulled frontman Zach Condon out of rock bottom following his nervous breakdown and divorce. The lyrics of the title track and lead single “No No No,” for example, represent one’s excitement and wariness to take a chance when falling in love; “Don’t know the first thing about who you are/ My heart is waiting, taken in from the star/ If we don’t go now, we won’t get very far.”
There are also certainly more electronic instruments used in this album, especially in tracks like “No No No,” whose intro goes from sounding like a cheesy ringtone to the eclectic keyboard in a rhythmic bossa nova. Meanwhile, the first track “Gibraltar” opens up with some very energetic bongos that are then followed by piano and hands clapping as Condon’s baritone vocals sway along to the melody.
Moving on, the three minute and thirty second “August Holland” sounds like something out of an older Belle and Sebastian disc, with its curt piano chords and strings and Condon repeating, “I want to be there now.” Perhaps the Beirut frontman is alluding to a desire of wanting to go back to the state of happiness he felt after reaching substantial success with The Rip Tide.
Although it is not necessarily bad, No No No is Beirut’s least favorably reviewed album to date. A common criticism seems to stem from the narrow choice of instrumentals in No No No compared to the very extravagant orchestra used in The Rip Tide. Another weakness of the album may also be its brevity. Despite being four years in the making, No No No is a mere 29 minutes long.
Moreover, considering the fact that Condon knows how to play a wide range of unconventional musical instruments— from accordion to euphonium to ukulele— many fans are upset at the fact that almost none of these were utilized in No No No. Nevertheless, I can understand why Condon chose to limit his instruments in this album. Maybe adding more would have jeopardized the cohesiveness of this disc or maybe he did not want it to sound like a sequel to The Rip Tide.
Sure, No No No is much different from what fans consider to be the quintessential Beirut. Even so, Beirut’s latest disc still shares some similarities with the rest of the band’s discography, namely its lyrics are still as emotional and thoughtful as ever, making it an overall okay album.