Portugal. The Man’s countercultural appeal marred by mainstream conventions


Alaskan band Portugal. The Man's new album "Woodstock" suffers from clashing themes and overproduction. Courtesy Photo

A 1969 Woodstock ticket stub inspired Portugal. The Man to focus a new album around the ideas of that period — individual liberation and rebellion. The result is its newest album, “Woodstock.”

“I’m a rebel just for kicks,” singer John Gourley sings in “Feel It Still,” the second single from “Woodstock,” embracing the insincere nostalgia that drives Woodstock-era youth counterculture.

For 13 years, across eight albums and 12 lineup changes, the Alaskan group has made its name in alternative rock with hits such as “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” peaking at 15 on Billboard’s Alternative Chart, and “Modern Jesus” which peaked at 28.

Released June 16 and thirty-eight minutes long, “Woodstock” takes Portugal. The Man’s alternative rock and explores dance-pop styles with electronic melodies.

Tracks such as “Live In The Moment” feature a driving bass and drum track as Gourley sings party anthem lyrics “Let’s live in the moment, come back Sunday morning.” Many tracks have a synth lead that pairs or works with Gourley’s guitar work.

The album attempts to identify itself with the counterculture image of the 1960s by incorporating social and political commentary alongside themes of coming-of-age and individuality in its lyrics.

But ironically, “Woodstock” lands in a sea of mainstream cliches, sentiment and recycled pop.

“I can’t feel this pain in my heart, because honestly it’s falling apart,” Gourley sings in a pop track with a Gorillaz feel, “Mr. Lonely.” Much of the album falls back on these types of sentimental phrases and vague emotional lyricism.

Even song titles like “Easy Tiger,” “Live in the Moment” and “Mr. Lonely” demonstrate the band’s dependence on platitudes.

The album’s second single, “Feel It Still” offers the alternative rock for which Portugal. The Man is known. The song’s message and relaxed funk feels in line with their 2013 release “Evil Friends” in a fresh and genuine way.

Tracks like “So Young” and “Number One” also work in the band’s familiar R&B and psychedelic styles.

But the countercultural themes on “Woodstock” often clash.

“Noise Pollution” is a commentary on society and technology, but “Rich Friends” has Gourley singing more party anthem lyrics, among them references to “crashing on chardonnay and Adderall.” While some songs feel aimed at the target theme, others feel contrived to fit a dance-pop mold.

If this is meant to be ironic, then the band seems completely unaware. That makes it even worse.

As a whole, this dance-pop focus of “Woodstock” feels foreign in relation to the album’s namesake and the band’s past work.

“Tidal Wave” in an example that incorporates pop ideas in a nuanced way. The chorus’s saxophone riff paired with electronic “ahhs” and punchy drum track show potential to funnel the band’s energy in a vibrant direction.

However, overproduction is a common occurrence on the rest of “Woodstock.” A need to fill space keeps tracks such as “Easy Tiger” and “Noise Pollution” juggling excessive instrumentation that makes the album feel mostly repetitive and uninspired.

While “Woodstock” presents a few tracks that explore nuanced alternative rock, most of the album relies on the recycled conventions of mainstream pop and feels alienated from past Portugal. The Man albums.

Portugal. The Man is scheduled for a Spring 2017 Tour in the United States and Europe, and will perform in Nashville, Tennessee in late August and early September.

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