Philly renaissance man (or at least compulsive band-joiner) Anthony Green already had a considerable résumé by the time he decided to embark on a solo mission with 2008's Avalon. As frontman for Circa Survive, Green toned down the screamo/hardcore roots of some of his earlier projects into a more darkly shrouded indie sound, and under his own name, Green notches down the tumult even further. While opting for a gentler hipster singer/songwriter bent overall, Beautiful Things still sees Green's battle with his eclectic impulses play out song to song. Some baseline elements run through almost all 13 tracks. High-gloss production, dynamic instrumentation, and spirited performances help the songs jell into an easily digestible album of accessible melodies and folky pop. Joyous and breezy numbers like "Just to Feel Alive" and "Moon Song" make the most of Green's impeccable vocal harmonies, steeped in classic Beatles-worship influence but coming off like a strange hybrid of Brendan Benson and Connor Oberst. When Green experiments with subtle genre twisting, however, his songs wander into personality crisis territory. "Can't Have It All at Once" ping-pongs from aggressive Circa Survive-style post-emo verses to happy-go-lucky jangly choruses, he's incapable of choosing between two disparate styles that aren't really working together. Moments later, he dabbles with bluesy acoustic guitar riffs over an anguished howl. The most glaring example of this iffy trying on of styles is the electro-dub rhythms of "When I'm on Pills." Green tries to stuff as many superfluous percussion noises, compressed guitars, and other confusing sound choices (is that a G-Funk keyboard line floating in the background there??) into the song while the cringe-worthy lyrics "I love you when I'm on Pills" repeat in a syrupy crawl. Interviews around the time of the album's release found Green referring to big life changes between Avalon and Beautiful Things; getting married, having a kid, and choosing to kick prescription medication for his mental maladies. Just shy of 30 years old at the time of recording this album, these factors spell out a classic 1/3-life crisis scenario for Green. It's no doubt these changes left the new family man with a lot on his mind, and the dizzying sonic landscape of Beautiful Things reflects that. Green finds the most success when speaking directly to his muse in as simplified a language as possible. Stripped-down tracks like "James' Song" and beautiful album closer "Lullaby" are loving odes to his newborn son, and these uncluttered moments are the most fulfilling on the album. While there's enough of Green's carefree personality (maybe too much) to wrangle Beautiful Things together into some unified whole, keeping up with the shifting can be a little exhausting. The pleasant sheen of these song shines just enough to distract us from how deceptively scattered an affair the album truly is.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas