Contemplating mortality is a favorite trope of the singer-songwriter. Per the title of City And Colour’s fifth full-length, though, what about contemplating mortality in the context of a committed relationship? In the hands (and voice) of Dallas Green, this becomes an existential, breathtaking crisis with new legs. It’s indicated at the outset with nine-minute-long opener “Woman,” easily the longest and perhaps most interesting song Green’s penned since launching this solo project in 2004. Green dabbles in psychedelic and progressive rock shades to carry him through the track, a compelling journey that’s starkly breathy and subtly bluesy, ruminating on the immortality of a couple’s love.
Green first plied his solo trade through stripped-down, spare songs as a gentle departure from his time in fiery post-hardcore act Alexisonfire. As that (recently reactivated) band ended and C&C has progressed, though, Green’s seemed far more comfortable and his music increasingly rewarding as he explores full-band sounds and grander gestures. (Nebraska’s great, sure, but so is Born In The U.S.A.) But even when using more than a lone acoustic guitar, Green manages to maintain his trademark subtlety over stadium-ready synth-pop. His soulful, near-gospel-level inflection livens up the verses of “Mizzy C,” which gives way to a sunny chorus where he candidly exposes unsureness on personal bearing. Insecurity, in fact, is a hallmark of his catalog (“I will hope for just an ounce of confidence” he sings on “Friends”). But this could never be guessed as Green struts through tracks like “Killing Time” and “Wasted Love” like Justin Vernon at his most swaggering.
By the time the album swings into its second half with the slide guitar-driven twang of “Runaway,” the mood has turned significantly. Green leaves behind the heady darkness in favor of major-key alt-country on “Runaway,” which sets the tone for a far more upbeat environment that would give most other records incongruity, but actually graces If I Should Go Before You with emotional balance. Green’s still exploring separation anxiety, granted: a couple, well, runs away in “Runaway”; just one of them leaves in the next track, “Lover Come Back,” and obviously, dude’s bummed. The finish may find Green occasionally stretching to find mildly new takes on loss and distance for thematic cohesion, but it’s still strong. “Map Of The World” jangles in like a sped-up, hi-fi take on the Get Up Kids’ “Campfire Kansas,” and “Blood” is a solemn, balladic closer about finding splendor beneath the surface. These are only relatively fresh spins on familiar concepts, but presented via an enjoyable framework that proves Green’s still loaded with stimulating ideas.