From the land of the deep freeze, and apparently the home of the deep thinkers, comes the latest release from Toronto post-grungers Our Lady Peace. It seems you won't find these brainiac musicians grappling over skateboard 'zines or drooling over the newest copy of Maxim. The CD is inspired in part by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. The book was the tour-bus reading material of choice for guitarist Mike Turner, who then lent it to vocalist Raine Maida. Though Kurzweil was recruited to recite short snippets of his book between cuts, the result really doesn't come across as being some self-indulgent (or groundbreaking) concept album, and Maida cringes when rip-and-read reviewers bring up the convenient Radiohead comparison.
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Sure, the album artwork depicts all kinds of bizarre human-technology interfaces, and some of the lyrics touch briefly on the man-machine relationship, but a listener needn't haul out the bong, draw the shades and set the CD player on repeat to catch OLP's drift. What you get here is some intelligently written, vibrantly produced tunes that are a cut above the corporate Creeds and matchboxes of the world.
Certainly Maida's lyrics don't paint discomfiting pictures or go into the deep, dark corners of the mind that fellow Canadian Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip likes to lay bare. "Life is waiting for you; it's all messed up but we'll survive," Maida intones on the track "Life." Whew, glad we paved that little pothole on the road to nirvana.
Still, to nitpick about the album's lyrics is to gloss over what it accomplishes. Tracks such as "In Repair" or "Right Behind You" offer up the repetitive chorus hook expected from a band with this kind of pedigree, and yet their swirling layers give the songs much more impact than their paint-by-numbers contemporaries can muster. It all comes together in "If You Believe," in which Raine shows off his ability to make the transition from nasally growl to smooth falsetto (his raw emotion always makes up for any lyrical shortcuts) backed by a spacey Brit-rock arrangement that comes very close to capturing OLP's pummeling live show.
Rather than a concept record, Spiritual Machines is more like a painting best seen from a distance rather than close up. Its strength dwells in its vibe, not its brush strokes.