I discovered Good Old War via the single “Broken Record,” released in advance of their most recent album Broken Into Better Shape. I loved it! It had a zany, somewhat frantic arrangement and a host of great melodic hooks, punctuated by background vocals right out of a Schoolhouse Rocks segment. Additionally, as someone often accused of being a ‘broken record,’ it was fun to revisit a term that has become increasingly anachronistic with the eclipse of vinyl. But the song left me wondering if the band might be little more than a novelty act. A perusal of their back catalogue suggested not.
Their prior three albums were to various degrees acoustic folk or folk-pop in orientation. Their first album, Only Way to Be Alone, melded harmony vocals, acoustic guitars and some great melodic electric guitar lead lines on tracks like “No Time” and “That’s What’s Wrong.” Their next release, Good Old War, went in a more folk and harmony vocal direction, while album number three, Come Back as Rain, upped the pop dimension, particularly on songs like “Can’t Go Home,” “Better Weather,” and “Over and Over.”
But that didn’t prepare me for Broken Into Better Shape, which in all respects – production, songwriting, performance – is an advance on their previous efforts. It is also their most poprock record. There are so many great songs here but I have featured four that showcase the range of styles. “Broken Record” is fun poprock, “Fly Away” shows what Good Old War can do with layered vocals, “I’m the One” has a great repeated guitar riff that anchors the song, while “Never Going to See Me Cry” has a driving hypnotic quality and some great lyrics.