Anyone who knows me knows I love Owl City. He’s helped me through so many of my darkest days that it isn’t even funny. When my parents grounded me for embezzlement, when my girlfriend in eighth grade just wanted to be enemies… But what kills me is that where the “normies”--that’s what we “Wise Owls” call them--stop is right after listening to “Fireflies” for the umpteenth time. And maybe “Good Time” twice. Do you have any idea what you’re missing? Do you have any clue??? Sorry to get so passionate, but with each Owl City album that comes after Ocean Eyes comes a new journey in… well, I guess the same exact thing, but I mean that in a good way. Today, I’m going to be reviewing his stellar new album, his wildly ambitious Cinematic, which surely deserves a space right alongside The Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Hollywood Undead’s American Tragedy in the Greatest Albums of All Time conversation.
From the outset, we are greeted with the explosive “Fiji Water,” which needless to say is my favorite song now. Or it was until the next song played. With the beautiful description of “Father Christmas pick[ing him] up” at the airport, Adam or whatever his name is gives us a lens into his life and how he sees the world. It’s magical and mysterious, and it isn’t until the fourth or fifth listen that it occurs to you “oh my God! It’s an old man with a beard!” Genius. And these oblique and seemingly opaque lyrics don’t stop after track one. Oh no. This album runs eighty minutes. And as much as I’d love to delve into the nuances of each, the layers on which they operate, we’d be here all day. I don’t know about you, but I work tonight.
Something you need to know about Dr. Owl City M.D. (Wise Owls call him that as a term of respect because his music is so therapeutic) is that he’s a Christian, and as such, he wouldn’t dare say a bad word in his music for fear of getting smote down. He’s better than I. I swear like a Netflix comic and I don’t even fucking know I’m sonofabitchin’ doing it. His music also works because it helps me realize that I don’t need to swear to get my point across and any musical artist who does is trashy and isn’t worth my time. On “All My Friends,” the good doctor delivers a raucous barnburner about a wholesome party with wholesomer friends and it made my little heart beat to the rhythm. I almost had to be hospitalized. The song follows the saddest boy ever as he sits on his couch, hating his life until his friends show up. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m sad, I’m secretly hoping that a huge crowd of people shows up and parties me out of my stupor. I’m just too scared to say it out loud! “I'd be lying if I said that we could take anymore,” he wails. “‘Cause we're about to light a fire like never before and if you're lying on the couch and there's a knock on the door, it's like ohhhhhhhh. It's like all my friends, woah, come right in. Woah, all my friends. We can take it all back again. Woah, put your hands on in and let me hear you say ‘oh oh oh oh oh.’”
The true heartbreaker of the album though comes five tracks in. It was so good I about stopped listening to the album entirely. “Not All Heroes Wear Capes” is a heartrending tribute to Owl City the senior, a man who built Owl “a house in the arms of a tree” and taught him to “drive” and to “fight” and to “dream”. It’s physically impossible--and scientists tested this--to have a heart and listen to the song without bawling. Can’t be done. I’ll admit it: I went through a box of Kleenex, two rolls of toilet paper and no small wad of Easter basket grass before those three minutes and forty-seven seconds had run their course. I’ll never listen to it again. It takes quite a man to let slip to his father that he loves him, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m not quite there. My face would go too red.
The rest of the album is equally stellar, from the inspirational “Winners Never Quit” (which I will say isn’t quite as powerful as The Script’s “Superheroes,” but few are) the [insert synonym for “inspirational” here] “Be Brave,” and the almost too-saccharine “Madeline Island” about his humble beach-house beginnings. And of course he sticks the landing with the last two songs. They’re stellar sendoffs. The penultimate song, “Firebird” is just a better “Castle on the Hill” which again hearkens back to Owl’s humble beginnings. He wants to be young again, as do we all, and this one utilizes some serious metaphor, yeah I know what it means, in the form of his friend’s Pontiac Firebird. It symbolizes Owl’s life, driving fast, not knowing where he’s going… and as the track progresses we are dealt some super-duper sad images of Owl’s life changing as he grows up. His room is now a guest room… the freezer door has different pictures on it… “Everything changes,” he says. Tears were shed. Then blood. Ran out of tears and my eyes kind of prolapsed, optically-speaking.
After the surgery, I continued on, and “Cinematic,” the closing track, had me dancing in my room and using my hairbrush as a mic. It was the best moment of my life until I found out my bratty little brother was filming me >:( In this one, Owl summarizes the whole album, comparing life to a movie--which never once came up, but because he’s so brilliant, I think it was subtextual and I’m convinced it works. “QUIET ON THE SET! LIGHT’S CAMERA ACTION!” the chorus screams, and chilled me to my very bones. It works brilliantly as an indiscriminate pat-on-the-back to the fans, and my hands were tied. I had no choice but to stan. He promises rave reviews of the movie of my life. Plot twists. Oscars. And I, Hank Melluish, am the hero. Because life is that simple. And nobody knows better than my favorite God-fearing millionaire, Mr. Owl City.
Happy April Fools Day!