Magnolia is The Pineapple Thief’s bid for a wider audience, and has the goods to probably get there, at least in the limited capacity the rock world finds itself in right now. For the sake of explanation, this is The Pineapple Thief’s tenth album and up to now the group, led by Bruce Soord, has focused on longer, but elegantly tasteful songs. That was evident on the previous All The Wars where some songs inched up to the eight and ten minute marks. Magnolia seeks to refine the process, offering up twelve songs, none of which stray far into “epic” territory.
Some of the musical touchstones for the record include names you’d expect like Muse and pre-Kid A Radiohead, as well as Blackfield, the more classic rock oriented side project formerly featuring Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson. You can hear that come through on the elegantly melancholic “Seasons Past,” one of the highlights of the disc. One of the new wrinkles that Magnolia presents is an angularity found on the last two Death Cab For Cutie albums. “The One You Left To Die” brings this to mind.
Overall the album is an entertaining listen, but there is a problem. Equating a band with other bands is the bane of the critic. It’s a lazy move and is avoided wherever possible, but Magnolia makes that virtually impossible. It is such a departure from what the band has done before in terms of construction and execution, that saying “Sense Of Fear” doesn’t have some of Muse’s DNA would be ignoring the obvious.
That doesn’t make the album bad, not by any stretch. Fans of the band over the years are not going to be immediately shocked by a sort of musical sea change. This is still the same band you knew before, except that the influences that once were submerged into what they did are now fairly explicit in the execution. That takes nothing away from the album’s finest moments, and in an odd turnaround, the gorgeous “A Lonliness” actually winds up being too short for my taste, but I’m grateful for that. Leaving the listener wanting more is a the direction modern prog rock truly needs to go after more than a decade of reconnecting with the long-form song. And in the moments that Soord, drummer Dan Osborne, bassist Jon Sykes and keyboardist Steve Kitch lock in, they offer one of the most persuasive arguments for rock in 2014.
You will probably glean a lot of information about the kind of record collections the members of The Pineapple Thief have from listening to Magnolia, but by the end, you’ll still have a healthy appreciation for what has just played out.