One of the interesting things about David Bowie is his ability to combine accessible melodies with lyrics that aren't always so accessible. Bowie's lyrics can be complex and abstract, but his melodies -- glam rock, hard rock, funk, dance-pop, or otherwise -- often have a way of grabbing the listener immediately. His lyrics may not offer immediacy, but his melodies and hooks do. And like a lot of Bowie's work, Only If You Look Up has a way of combining easy to absorb melodies with lyrics that aren't always easy to absorb. Portable has an attractive post-grunge sound -- one that owes something to Smashing Pumpkins, Collective Soul, and Radiohead as well as Pearl Jam and Nirvana -- and on this 2002 release, the band has plenty of attractive melodies and solid songwriting to go with that sound. "Never Small," "Suffocate," and "Better Get the Daisies Out" aren't the sort of songs that need to grow on the listener; melodically, these tunes win the listener over at once. But that doesn't mean that the lyrics, all of which were written by lead singer Chance, are simplistic. Quite the contrary -- Chance's lyrics tend to be emotionally complex, and they don't go out of their way to be accessible. His lyrics are as contemplative as they are personal -- so personal, in fact, that they may require some hard thinking on the part of the listener. And because the lyrics of Chance (who produced Only If You Look Up with Brad Wood) aren't always straightforward, in some cases three different listeners might get three different things out of a song's lyrics. But one won't have to do a lot of hard thinking to hear how much emotion and feeling Chance is pouring into his words, or to realize just how musically appealing this album is.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson