Quiet magnificence
Beirut - The Rip Tide

I ’ll be honest - I was never that fussed with Beirut. Like many, I was drawn to ‘Gulag Orkestar’ by its forbidding title, that anonymous and curiously haunting cover photo (allegedly found in a library, photographer unknown) and the Balkan-indie tag.

And sure, it was a decent enough record, but something about it didn’t quite connect. Then ‘The Flying Cup Club’ came along and again I tried, but felt that same sense of dislocation. Like the films of Wes Anderson, Zach Condon’s music can feel cool and isolating if you don’t fully buy into it. But also like Anderson, when he snares you, he snares you good…

‘The Rip Tide’ has snared me more than all of Condon’s previous records combined. It’s not quite his pop album, but it’s certainly the one where he most expertly fuses his global influences with his now considerable song writing skills.

So, while ‘A Candle’s Fire’ opens with his familiar mariachi stylings (and, incidentally, sounds exactly like music from The Terminator), it’s immediately followed by ‘Santa Fe’, which demonstrates Condon at his most breezily charming. There’s a chance that it might be overlooked compared to some of the heavier songs that follow it. That would be a shame, as it’s actually perfect. The rest of the album is more subdued, but also more rewarding over the long haul. The title track unravels beautifully over a couple of plays and the whole album is fraught with an introspective intensity. Nowhere is that more obvious than on ‘Goshen’ - the obvious highlight here. The key lyric, “You’re on in five”, feels like a gentle encouragement - appropriate for a song that takes to the floor as a shy piano ballad, before blossoming into a multi-instrumental epic.

That this is both Beirut’s deepest and most instantly enjoyable album is obvious. Condon has left the bedroom where he handcrafted ‘Gulag’ behind. He’s no longer a promising indie auteur, but the leader of a very good band. Yet, remarkably, ‘The Rip Tide’ retains the distinctiveness of those earlier records. Its quiet magnificence is destined to win over a lot of doubters.

8/10

Words by WILL SALMON
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