A group will always have trouble topping a critically acclaimed album that is widely considered its best. Some will try to take a completely different direction and experiment with something else (Radiohead’s Kid A, every Beatles album), while others will continue to do the same thing and hope to rebuild the success that they have had in the past over again (Muse’s Absolution, every U2 album since The Joshua Tree). It is tough to choose which way to go because they could both lead to disasters that are hated by fans and critics.
Destroyer released Destroyer’s Rubies in 2006, an album hailed as its best album ever. It was a pop album that defied all typical pop conventions.
While singing about common pop themes like love, life and his emotions, Destroyer complicated and masked all these things with random statements that seemed like he was telling inside jokes that no one but he was going to get. It topped numerous best-of lists, and many thought Destroyer had finally found a balance between his lyrics and his songs after toiling at his craft for years.
So it seems on Trouble in Dreams, Dan Bejar, the group’s mastermind and lead singer, decided to go for the latter approach and try more of the same. The album is a departure from other albums because there is no real change here. Songs sound as though they could have been picked from any of his old albums and placed on the new disc. But unlike the other two groups, this album works because of the strength of Bejar’s songwriting and unique style.
Bejar opens the album with the song “Blue Flower/Blue Flame,” where he begins with just a concession while strumming on his guitar, singing “OK fine, even the sky looks like wine.” It is a typical way for Destroyer to open an album, with a line that has little meaning besides the fact that it sounds pretty and poetic. When it is just said as an independent statement, it sounds utterly ridiculous, but he grounds it in a simple folk song that makes Bejar sound sincere and authentic.
On “Foam Hands,” Bejar’s attempt at a ballad, he serenades a lost love that has left and confesses things like “I didn’t know what time it was at all.” He backs it with a simple electric guitar riff that gives the song a distinctly Destroyer flavor.
He follows up with a song entitled “My Favorite Year” that is about anything but. While he spouts off different times in 1993, he has actually confessed that ‘93 is just a random year he picked. The song starts to become a little too much when Bejar starts to scream “Beware the company you reside in!” over and over again in a weird segue between parts of the song.
But the album’s true standout is “Rocket Shooting Rockets (From the Desk of the Night’s Ape).” Bejar does his best Bob Dylan impression when he sings lyrics like “I didn’t go out into the world just to be stung by a rich man’s hornets” and “A once thin man turns into a pig.” This is all done in between searing guitar solos and a piano that adapts to whatever direction Bejar decides to go. It’s an eight minute song that never has a dull moment.
Other songs offer more of the same, something most Destroyer fans (and critics) have come to expect. Trouble in Dreams is not going to convince anyone that Bejar is a great pop artist if he or she did not already think it before.
But Bejar does not sound like he is out to change any minds anymore. He has perfected what he built with his last album, and he is doing it well. His unique style has inspired a drinking game with rules like “take a drink when a previous album or song is mentioned” and “drink twice when ‘meta’ lyrics are used that refer to the song in progress.”
The album has done nothing that would add to this game, but has only reinforced and strengthened a style that pop fans everywhere have embraced.