Some of the most effective pop music writing teams have a specific thing in common. One person will have an instinctual knack for the hook, the intrinsic pleasures of popular music. The other will be equally desirous to subvert it, if not blow it up entirely. We’ve seen this with Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, Tim Finn and Neil Finn, and even Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp in King Crimson (circa Three of a Perfect Pair). That tendency is exemplified with brothers David and Peter Brewis, known in the music world as Field Music.
Their latest, Commontime, manages to balance the tendencies with great skill, something that cannot be said of their otherwise terrific previous efforts. You’d be pressed to believe the balance is there, however, on first listen. Except for the occasional flat-out solid pop tune like “Disappointed” and a few others, first impressions tend to side with the arch, angular, and even somewhat divisive concoctions. An example of that would be “But Not For You” which pits an off-kilter ‘60s organ sound against a traditional setting. The listener concludes that something is not right here at all. By the fourth-or-so listen, the hook and the insidious charm of it has burrowed deep into the brain.
That “But Not For You” immediately follows the instantly likable “Disappointed” is not happenstance. We’ll see that again with the very Squeeze-like “How Should I Know If You Changed?” being shadowed by the almost epic meltdown and math-rock obsessing of “Trouble At The Lights”. The majestic chamber pop of “The Morning Is Waiting” is rendered even sweeter after the Crimson-like “Indeed It Is” kicks in with disorienting time signatures and the initial confusion while figuring out where the beat is falling.
This see-saw of tensions mirrors one of my favorite Field Music albums, Measure, but Commontime does not succumb to the serious flaw it had: at a whopping four sides of vinyl, Measure was too much and too long, with the wit of the construction eventually giving way to forced surrender. At a well-paced 14 songs, with most residing comfortably in the 4-to4 ½ minute region, Commontime is not endured, but enjoyed.
For the smart-pop set, Field Music’s Commontime rewards the listener when you allow it to work on you. It is not a difficult decision to make.