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No frills or gimmicks, just greatness

The self-proclaimed anti-grunge punk from Sunny Day Real Estate returns with an album that's grandiose, anthemic and a monumental musical achievement.  By Paul Olund
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

A man and his guitar, Jeremy Enigk took the stage alone. Before a pint-sized crowd, in a cold, dark concert hall, he nervously plucked at his acoustic, stumbling uncertainly through a test-run of his first solo venture, “Return of the Frog Queen.”

That was more than a decade ago, and expectedly, things have changed. 

Now, 32, the self-proclaimed anti-grunge punk, who once refused to be interviewed, pose for pictures or perform anywhere in the state of California, has taken on a dose of elderly clarity, trading in his famously rugged guitar lines and emotive vocal squeals for “World Waits,” an anthemic collection of contemporary orchestral pop.

Grandiose in every way, “World Waits” is a monumental musical achievement. At just under 40 minutes, it’s a rare look at more than 10 years of material from one of indie rock’s most venerable songwriters.

Stocked with soaring melodies, aching vocal harmonies and lush orchestral arrangements, Enigk returns to his roots, employing the same shiver-inducing genius that, during the ’90s, helped set Sunny Day Real Estate apart from the crowd of big-haired heavy metal wannabes.

Enigk vents his creative side well, boasting an entire orchestra as his backup band. Propped by his own Lewis Hollow label, Enigk has the artistic flexibility to create something uncompromisingly unique, and on his newest, he does just that.

“World Waits” opens with the triumphant “A New Beginning,” a sugary, synth-filled orchestral-ganza. Paired with Enigk’s syrupy croon, even at a mere minute and a half, the track is among the disc’s most impressive.

“Been Here Before” moves in the same direction, combining strings and piano in a complex musical mixture. Over the fray Enigk laments, his thematic recitations emanating through: “Been here before / though there’s something in the air this time / now I wanna give away what I’ve taken back.” Instrumental arrangements reminiscent of SDRE’s “Rising Tide” are present here, along with a well of reverb-entrenched chorus lines: “I can’t stay long in the morning / another one went wrong / it’s OK now that you’re gone / only in your eyes a sudden need / I sympathize.”

The slow-moving “River to Sea” lilts sluggishly forward, lapping gently from start to finish as Enigk’s vocals ebb and flow under quiet wisps of acoustic guitar. “River to sea / there we will be / I’ve found my place / where I have longed to be / I can’t erase any mistake / but I can outgrow / rivers of love will flow.”

Age, religion (he left SDRE controversially after a public conversion to Christianity in 1995), family, success — whatever the cause, Enigk’s newfound artistic confidence is palpable. Nowhere is it more apparent than on “Damien Dreams,” a wandering ballad that traipses along a list of instrumental odds and ends. There are no frills or gimmicks here, and Enigk seizes the opportunity to prove he hasn’t lost it, one minute whispering vocal nothings, the next growling in emotional rapture.

Sonically, “World Waits” embraces most of what you’d expect — airy vocal flourishes, sprawling arrangements and an emotional vulnerability that is distinctly Enigk.

Enter the disc’s title track, a majestic, impassioned orchestral anthem. Swirling with piano, guitar, strings and horns, it’s easily one of the most memorable Enigk’s ever committed to cellophane. Conceptually, it slinks along quietly, weaving each instrument to pitch-perfect synchronicity beneath Enigk’s vocal timbre, gradually building as it stretches toward the extravagant finale. Enigk thunders: “I’ll wait forever / never take the time / don’t break my heart again / though I want to take the time / the nature of design it’s so hard to arrange / so hard to explain / your moment / away beyond your heart ache / no time for our love.” Songs like “World Waits” are simply astonishing, and this album is brimming with them.

Enigk proves again that if given time to work, he can create music that’s truly exceptional. It may take another decade, but for another album of this stature, it’s well worth the wait.

For more information on Jeremy Enigk, visit: http://www.myspace.com/jeremyenigk.