Produced by respected composer Alex Newport, known for similar work with acts as diverse as Death Cab for Cutie and At the Drive In, among others, Paul Jacks’ new collection Amphibious moves on from the past without foregoing what brought Jacks to the dance. The personal touch distinguishing prior albums such as Black Jackal and In Other Words remains intact. Jacks, however, shifts his lyrical focus to hone in on themes of survival, self-awareness, and growth for this nine song effort.
It doesn’t mean, however, that we’re treated to a cuddly slate of tunes. Melody forms the foundation of these songs, as always, and the vocal arrangements bear inspired hallmarks. It isn’t difficult to hear tried and true reference points popping up throughout the opener “If I Were a Better Man”, the album opener, and his penchant for gripping lines remains as sharp as ever. He embraces a thoughtful pop oriented sound during the track, as he does throughout others, and it provides a sharp contrast with the quasi-confessional lyrics. The song title hints at a smattering of self-pity, but Jacks’ words dig deeper than superficial navel-gazing.
The steady backbeat underpinning “Brand New Shame” anchors the hazed over vocals and dreamlike orchestration. It offers necessary ballast preventing the tune from slipping off into the ether and provides our first, but far from only, example of the overall balance defining Amphibious. The breezy pace fueling “Left in a Haste” supplies a furious backbeat for the album’s third song and augmenting it with keyboards gives it an unexpected 80’s aura. Jacks is mining recognizable territory, however, without ever lapsing into imitation. He surrounds the vocals with light post-production that sustains the airy melodic mood.
“Die for Your Love” sweeps listeners into the album’s darkest number. Piano and acoustic guitar highlight the song while light orchestration reinforces the song’s underlying melodic strengths. The song has surprising wounded appeal without dragging listeners into outright despair. The Beatle-esque bounce of the album’s title track doesn’t succumb to craven imitation, thankfully, and piano once again brings an added dimension to the song’s arrangement. The vocals are hazier than ever and emphasize the introspective and internalized nature of his writing.
“Walk on Five” has sweeping enthusiasm without ever overwhelming listeners. The stylistic consistency of Amphibious continues with this energetic later track, but has a distinct flavor different from the earlier “Left in a Haste”. Some listeners may continue hearing a clear 80’s influence in Jacks’ music, but he’s transmuted any echoes through an unique consciousness. The lyrics continue bearing the stamp of the album’s aforementioned themes.
The psychedelicized romp “My Love Has to Ask” closes Amphibious with great flair. It doesn’t go in for gaudy flourishes, however, and its substance makes the track an emphatic final statement. The final is the album’s last marriage of the incongruous with a jaunty arrangement and rates high among Amphibious’ finest moments. Paul Jacks is far from a novice. He’s polished his skills to fine shine without sacrificing any musical credibility and Amphibious stands as his greatest achievement yet.