One thing that is consistent across the album is that Turner is spooked, channeling paranoia through lyrics about spies and, even seedier, show business. On “Mr Schwartz,” the titular character is a commanding presence, if a bit of a mystery. The world around him bursts to life, and when Turner elegantly sings a line like, “Wardrobe’s lint-rolling your velveteen suit and smudging dubbin on your dancing shoes,” it’s clear that this man is of great import, catered to by his devotees as if he’s Jay Gatsby, but nothing untoward ever happens. The feeling of being in the wrong place or that something is amiss continues on “Sculptures of Anything Goes,” a song whose arrangement conveys the sensation of being trapped in a dark room, alone with anxieties and echoes, as Turner sings about foreign television performances and stark hallways. Everything is mixed-up, not wrong or bad, but peculiar, itching for a stasis it can’t reach.
The music of The Car matches the uncertainty of the lyrics. After the opening “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball,” which could soundtrack a French noir film from just about any era, the band bursts into technicolor on the funk-inspired “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am.” On first listen, it’s like going from a café in the rain to a carnival. The transition works, however, because of the passionate performances from the band—drummer Matt Helders hums along on the former track like a jazz percussionist, while Turner leans into the ludicrousness of the latter with wah-wah riffs to match. Other adventures include “Jet Skis on the Moat,” which could pass for an Isaac Hayes cover, and “Body Paint,” a blast of baroque pop that has all the swagger and bravado of an AM cut without any of the lurid desperation. By its climax, you can hear some of the scrappy band that rocked out in the mid-aughts, mixed with traces of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’s sumptuous glamor.
With regularity on The Car, Turner will begin an idea that he does not finish, or he’ll introduce something totally different just when you start following along. He has become a master of turns of phrases that don’t necessarily cohere but still feel right: “There’d better be a mirrorball for me”; “Village coffee mornings with not long since retired spies”; “Lego Napoleon movie written in noble gas-filled glass tubes underlined in sparks.” These lines serve as dramatic punctuation to the times when Turner is more open: “And if you’re thinking of me I’m probably thinking of you,” he sings in “Body Paint,” bringing the song to a halt. It’s as if it’s the one line Turner truly wants to deliver and he’s crafted an entire song around it just to muster up the courage to sing it.
Turner sings much of The Car in falsetto. He began his career close to his speaking voice, matching his unbridled, true-to-life observations of days and nights in Sheffield. Over the years, he would expand his range, but when he’d switch to a higher register, it was almost like a send-up, embodying the hip-swinging showman who can poke fun at rockstar machismo while still behaving a bit laddishly. Now that falsetto is nearly the standard on The Car, Turner has collapsed the irony and remove, and he is singing that way for some of his most sincere moments. It’s as if what had previously been an escape is now a reality. A way of being vulnerable with more than words. Earnest misdirection.
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