The wild, woolly gospel of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros arrived in 2009, a self-reinvention of lead singer/songwriter/bandleader Alex Ebert, who was coming off his snarky mid-aughts dance-punk unit Ima Robot. Reborn as something of a messianic character leading an enormous hippie rock commune/caterwauling backing band, Ebert worked with his Zeros in an ever-anthemic framework on both 2009's debut Up from Below and its 2012 follow-up Here. Both these albums borrowed generously from a variety of classic rock radio staples and dorm-room favorites, weaving the influence of everyone from the Doors to Bob Marley into their tunes, resulting in a few hyper-catchy standout tracks and a fair amount of filler. Their third, self-titled album is much the same, but with a few key variants. The crystal-clear production of the earlier albums is replaced with a much more raw, even overdriven sound. Ebert's vocals crackle both with his trademark emphatic delivery and also this newfound layer of production fuzz. Likewise, the instruments are a little more scuffed-up and lo-fi than on previous releases, with notably distorted drums meshing with a soup of defocused instruments. Another change this time around comes in the wandering song structures. The shuffling, Sgt. Pepper's-indebted "Let's Get High" moves through a handclapping poppy section full of blurting brass and "high on love" choruses before slowing down into murky doo wop structures around the three-minute mark and eventually spending the last minute or so on swirling vocal chants. Uncommon structural turns like this happen throughout the album, with tracks like "If I Were Free" wandering into unexpected jammy sections. The Beatles worship that was prevalent on Up from Below returns with a vengeance, with multiple references to Lennon/McCartney compositions, sometimes as blatant as the crunchy guitar lead of "Oh! Darling" being appropriated for the chorus of the Zeros' "This Life" and other times as subtle as a vocal affectation borrowed from Let It Be. Vocalist Jade Castrinos again joins Ebert with her passionate howl, adding life to the record on her sole lead vocal tune, "Remember to Remember." Along with the Beatles-borrowed marching band sounds and milky guitar tones, the band also tries on a '60s soul influence, bringing to mind Devendra Banhart's fractured take on doo wop on tracks like "They Were Wrong." The album tends to drag, with all 12 tracks lingering a little too long and being weighted down with more musical ornamentation than they can actually hold. Though they've toned down the theatrical bent that made Here sometimes feel more like excerpts from Godspell than the work of a rock band, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros still deliver more in the way of spirit, affectation, and high-energy performance than they do with memorable tunes. Only a handful of the tracks here have a lot of staying power, and the rest, while always colorful and even enjoyable, are fast to fade.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas