Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff plunged himself about as far into the psychological abyss as possible on 2005's widely acclaimed, borderline-disturbing Black Sheep Boy, so he can be forgiven for lightening up on the Austin group's new The Stage Names. "Fun was the watchword this time," he writes in the liner notes. "Fun for everybody." Sheff turns his erudite, meticulously detailed lyrics — Lou Reed is a fan — on the life of a hard-touring band (perhaps even his own), while expanding Okkervil's indie-folk palette to include Phil Spectorian pop, Motown rhythms and more outright rock and roll than ever. Songs like "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" and "Unless It's Kicks" pull back the showbiz curtain, while others, like the poignant "Savannah Smiles" and "You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man," spare a moment to reflect on those not on the bus. And true to Sheff's words, The Stage Names is a lot of fun, especially the rousing Beach Boys homage "John Allyn Smith Sails" and song-title wordplay of "Plus Ones." I'll spot you "7 Chinese Brothers," "Eight Miles High" and "96 Tears" — how many more can you find?
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