Review: The Avett Brothers — The Third Gleam

Categories:  Music    The Arts
Wednesday, September 16th, 2020 at 12:05 PM
Review: The Avett Brothers — The Third Gleam by Teddy Rankin

The first time I heard an Avett Brothers song, it was when a friend of mine covered “Murder in the City” at a local open mic night. I was charmed by the beautiful storytelling in the lyrics. Since my introduction to the band was a song from "The Second Gleam,” I was excited to hear they were coming back with a sequel 12 years later.  

The Avett Brothers’ latest release, “The Third Gleam,” is simultaneously predictable and puzzling. Playing like a parody of itself, an Avett Brothers ghostwriter might as well have penned this collection of eight songs. And like some of the Brothers’ previous work, the album makes a well-intentioned attempt to tackle social issues. Despite their intentions, though, these lyrics feel empty and occasionally problematic.

The song, “I Should’ve Spent The Day With My Family,” tells the story of a shooting from the perspective of someone whose life remains unaffected. Neither the narrator nor his family were present at the shooting, and they do not seem to have any personal connection to the tragic event. Seth Avett sings, “Turning on my phone was the first mistake I made / My heart sunk when I read the first headline / There had been another shooting, and this time not so far away / And a child who lost his life looked an awful lot like mine.” He goes on feeling hopeless for four and half minutes, but chooses to place blame on God rather than the shooter or legislators.

Meanwhile, in “Prison to Heaven,” an incarcerated man decides he would rather be dead than in prison; he proceeds to beg St. Peter and God to let him into heaven. The songwriting structure here is somehow even more confusing than the message, rarely ever rhyming.

On The Avett Brothers’ 2019 album, “Closer Than Together,” they tried their hand at making a feminist anthem in “New Woman’s World.” That song does a nice job of offering support and not putting down any woman. That’s why it is so shocking that the band misses the mark this hard on “The Third Gleam.” The fifth song, “Women Like You,” states, “I thought they didn’t make women like you anymore / You’re modest enough to not strut your stuff.” They essentially go back on their previous statements of support, and the song goes on to further define what apparently makes a woman acceptable to the band.

Then, the song “Untitled #4” pairs a sweet melody with lyrics about the joys of simple living, singing, “I am happier with nothing.” This seems really nice and innocent, but doesn’t quite sit right when you remember that The Avett Brothers are millionaires.

Lyrics aside, “The Third Gleam” sounds like a perfectly nice folk album. The instrumentation is a pared-down version of their normal, full-band sound. It features acoustic guitar, banjo, minimal bass and the classic Avett Brothers harmonies. Musically, it sounds like “The Gleam” and “The Second Gleam” (2006 and 2008, respectively). The gentle music of “The Third Gleam” is almost enough to lull listeners into a sense of peace. Then, when you least expect it, the odd lyrics poke out of the song and pull you out of the experience.

Despite all of this, The Avett Brothers should be given a pass. They are a prolific band that has been around for a long time. Something was bound to go wrong at some point. Maybe people who aren’t as analytical about lyrics will love this album. 2020 is a crazy year and perhaps “The Third Gleam” is just another glitch in the matrix. Whatever is next for The Avett Brothers, I will happily listen, pretending that “The Third Gleam” never existed.

Teddy Rankin is a music writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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