3. Augie March - Strange Bird (2002)
While Sunset studies was an organically mellow affair, Strange bird doesn't mind straying beyond those stylistic boundaries, following their muse to see where they end up. From the baroque pop of lead single The vineyard, the raucous hoe-down of This train will be taking no passengers (which wouldn't sound out of place on a Pogues album), the brass-inflected Little wonder and the lo-fi folk of Sunstroke house -- there isn't a wasted moment to be found on this hour-long album. It is a tour de force of musical styles and sounds that fit together seamlessly into a cohesive whole.
Strange bird also includes some darkness and shade with rockier moments (Song in the key of chance), brief but beautiful musical interludes (O mi sol li lon, Up the hill and down), avant-garde experiments (O song) and wide-screen epics (the perfection of Brundisium which may just be their finest moment). There's also a thematic thread throughout the record, with a few songs referencing "strange birds" or bird-related imagery in the lyrics.
While the whole band demonstrate their talent on every track, there's no doubt that front man Glenn Richards is the star of the show; his deeply enigmatic lyrics and versatile vocal style (ranging from a mournful croon in This night is a blackbird to the scream of "Train!" at the end of This train will be taking no passengers) always steal the show.
The attention to detail in the packaging is immaculate, from the vintage feel of the album cover, to the booklet accompanying the album which is more like a poetry anthology (even including an index of the first lines of each song). The care and elegance on display here prove to me that owning a digital version of an album will never be able to replace the real thing when there are still bands out there who care as much as these guys do.
Augie March confirmed on this album that they are one of the greatest bands of this generation. While their follow-ups have been relative disappointments, I am hopeful they they will be able to re-ignite the spark and deliver another great album like this in the near future.