The World That Never Was

The Secret History

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The World That Never Was Review

by Tim Sendra

The Secret History has a history to envy. The band was built from the ruins of the much-loved group My Favorite, and carries on the tradition of making records that will be loved to death by those lucky enough to hear them. Unlike My Favorite, which sounded like a perfect blend of icy synth pop and majestic guitar pop, the Secret History aims for a more organic, more expansive, and tougher sound. The guys writing the songs -- Michael Grace, Jr. and Darren Amadio (both hold-overs from My Favorite) -- still write heart-stopping choruses and huge hooks, so that hasn’t changed. They just sound more like Dexy’s Midnight Runners and less like OMD now. Despite this shift, Grace's lyrics have stayed true to his past, revealing character studies of dreamers, runaways, and the broken-hearted mix with tales of a life lived with poetry, fire, and desperation. It’s pretty far from the standard indie rock party line of mopey introspection, and it goes a long way in explaining why My Favorite had such devoted fans. It’s likely that they will fall in love with the Secret History, too, because The World That Never Was not only lives up to My Favorite’s legacy, but surpasses it. Apart from the warmer and more human sound, a big reason why are the vocals of Lisa Ronson. Grace was lucky when she answered the ad looking for a “tragic female voice,” she not only has that, but she gives the songs an emotional wallop a weaker vocalist may not have been able to deliver. When her voice twines with the group’s other vocalist, Erin Dermody, the harmonies are transcendent. Grace’s vocals are an important factor in the mix, too; his everyman vocals are a fine contrast to the rich vocals of the band’s females. Together, the three singers give the songs the grace and strength the words and melodies deserve. Not since the first two New Pornographers records have the songs, vocals, and production come together so perfectly. In fact, you could take any song on The World, say the wrenching ballad "Sex with Ghosts" or the moody rocker "Sister Rose," stack it up against a song on Mass Romantic, and the result would be a toss-up. An impressive feat but not a surprising one, given the band’s past. Yes, My Favorite was a tough act to follow but the Secret History do it with grace and style. On The World That Never Was, they've crafted one of the best, most lyrical, and emotionally powerful pop albums of the past however long.

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