When Over the Rhine released their sparsely produced, largely acoustic independent effort Good Dog Bad Dog in 1996, they had not yet given up on their plans to record a more elaborate version of the album. In the end, the group decided that the "home recordings" approach was appropriate for that collection of songs, but when they finally issued a major label follow-up five years later, it was almost as if they were making up for lost time. The appropriately titled Films for Radio has a broad, cinematic scope that makes it the band's most ambitious and lavishly produced record to date. Fans who were introduced to the band through Good Dog may have expected Films to be an intimate arthouse drama, but it proves instead to be something of a slick and unusually intelligent summer blockbuster. The album contains Over the Rhine's first experiments with synthesizers and drum loops, melding edgy special effects into a distinctive art pop brew that continues to be cemented by artfully elliptical lyrics and some of the most engaging melodies in adult alternative music. The synth pop opener "The World Can Wait," for example, sounds like a theme song for a James Bond movie. "The Body Is a Stairway of Skin" is something like Bjork-influenced trip-hop. There is even an energetic Duran Duran-like cover of a Dido tune ("Give Me Strength"). All of that style sometimes overwhelms the substance of the group's unusually substantive songwriting. And perhaps because the album consists of a jumble of material written over a five-year respite from recording, Films for Radio lacks the cohesiveness of its predecessor. Some songs, like the rootsy "Little Blue River" and the Beatles-esque "Goodbye," are a little out of place in the glossy surroundings. Others, like the radio-friendly "Moth," have been dressed in high-tech arrangements that seem a bit strained when compared to earlier, more relaxed performances. The album may be less satisfying for diehard fans than for newcomers who are just discovering the band's exquisitely crafted lit pop sound.
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AllMusic Review by Evan Cater