Trashcan Sinatras have a lot of road behind them—nearly 30 years’ worth—and on album number six, the melancholy Scots take a catchy, joyous look at their own mortality and decide it’s worth celebrating. Why shouldn’t they? It’s been a weird ride, with college-radio and 120 Minutes success—remember those?—out of the gate as the ’80s became the ’90s, followed by some gorgeous records but fading public awareness. A long hiatus starting in 1996 signaled the end, but by 2004, a small but dearly dedicated fan base seemed to almost will the Trashcans back from the abyss of wavering public interest and near financial ruin.
The songs persisted throughout, though they apparently come to the band less frequently these days, and often with less intensity. That meant slippage on 2009’s too-calm-for-its-own-good In The Music, but the new Wild Pendulum—it’s right there in the title—manages to marry the band’s timeless sense of melody with words and themes that are a bit easier to parse. It’s mainly that we’re all going to die—personally, perhaps professionally—so why not embrace the whole thing and enjoy it? Trashcan Sinatras are like their predecessors The Smiths, if Morrissey had come out the other side of fame wiser instead of just more cantankerous.
The best song here is the one that hits that topic most squarely: “Ain’t That Something” marvels at the idea of “the world surviving you,” as if it just occurred to singer Frank Reader that things would go on without him. A string section pushes to the front, joining a chorus of heavenly “ahhs” and the overjoyed notion that “We are definitely doomed.” (The Smiths comparison, again, seems almost too easy, but there it is.) “Ain’t That Something” also nods most directly to the Trashcans’ earliest, most widely revered records, though the days of Reader’s pun propensity are mostly gone.
And while that song’s the best one, Wild Pendulum is packed with plenty of similarly gorgeous, newly energized songs. Producer Mike Mogis—himself a product of the ’90s music scene, the Nebraska one that birthed Bright Eyes, one of many bands whose sound he helped create—deserves at least some credit. Pendulum is lovingly crafted, with layers in all the right places: “I Want To Capture Your Heart,” with its flickering harp and echoey vocals, belongs on an old Disney soundtrack (that’s a compliment), while opener “Let Me Inside (Or Let Me Out)” announces the album with busy, classic pop that ought to have Decemberists fans swooning at least a bit.
It’s a welcome reinvigoration for a band that’s always felt both timeless and a bit out of step—a measured, layered reckoning of their own mortality. In that way, it’s a tuneful carpe diem, or perhaps a refined YOLO, presented by wise gentlemen who’ve spent years finding beautiful ways to express similar sentiments in more clever fashions than those.