Click to hear: “So Simple”
Long Overdue is the aptly titled debut album from Lovers of Fiction, the rock project of composer/professor Dan Sonenberg. The Lovers teased us back in the summer of 2013 with The Bear, a three-song release that flashed their brilliance, and have now delivered a full-length that fulfills, if not exceeds, expectations.
It’s not that Sonenberg hasn’t been busy. His opera The Summer King, about Negro League baseball great Josh Gibson, premiered in May of last year, and he released a decent solo album, Peaks Island Ferry, that fall. Plus, the guy’s the father of triplets, so cut him some slack. And Long Overdue is worth the wait.
Ably abetted by three of his former students (Sam Chandler, Mark Dennis and Jimmy Dority, multi-instrumentalists all), Sonenberg provides a graduate-level class in rock songcraft. Authors on the required listening list include Nilsson, Costello, Partridge, Bowie and Folds. It sounds like Ziggy Stardust himself beams in halfway through “Lost Weekend” to sing a few bars, but what Bowie and Sonenberg have most in common is a flair for adding dramatic (as in, theatrical) elements into rock forms. (Again, the dude just penned an opera.)
The first two tracks, “So Simple” and “Superhero Chin,” are packed with hooks and blanketed in layers of overlapping musical and vocal parts. Horn players keep stopping by to blow with the foursome for a few sections, then split. You never really know what’s gonna happen from one part of a song to the next, and that’s a rare and precious experience in music these days.
The biggest payoff for me happens about halfway through “Everybody Wants to be an ENFP,” a strange and funky number whose title refers to a personality classification (Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perception) used in the Myers-Briggs system inspired by the work of Carl Jung. A tasty guitar solo by Dennis soon segues into a dreamlike instrumental carnival reminiscent of late Zappa and the eternal Sun Ra. Awesome.
I also really dig “The Bear Part 2,” sequel to the three-song release’s title track. Sonenberg writes from a perspective seldom used in popular song, that of the spurned lover who finds compassion for the guy his gal spurned him for after she kicks that sucker to the curb, too. “Turns out the Bear is just an ordinary guy,” it begins. “Saw him on the sidewalk with his little boy / We were both misled by the wind and the sea and the sky that we saw running through your eyes / We bought your disguise.”
There are times, mostly in the second half of the album, when the compositions begin to feel too crowded with vocals and instrumentation. Sonenberg actually flaunts this flaw during the overlong coda of “Old Man in a Rainstorm,” a ballad that, by the end, practically flogs the listener with sounds, including a brass quintet and a mad chorus of kazoos. Ambitious? You bet. Care to hear it again? Nah, I’m good.
If you’re a listener who appreciates smart songwriting, or a musician who could use some tips, pick up Long Overdue. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than college.
— Chris Busby
Lovers of Fiction plays a CD release show on Fri., Dec. 18, at SPACE Gallery (538 Congress St., Portland), with openers Leveret and Perfect Hair, at 8:30 p.m. Tix: $8 (all ages).