Album Review: Jealous Gods (Poets of the Fall)

Never mess with dudes dressed up for a masquerade.
Never mess with dudes dressed up for a masquerade.

No one does love songs quite like Poets of the Fall. While it is easy to make the argument that they are little more than Depeche Mode updated for the 21st century (a sentiment which might send Martin Gore into apoplexy, since Depeche Mode is still releasing albums), with their philosophical waxings, occasional Christian imagery and revelations of infinite sadness that can only be trumped by love, I maintain that the Poets blend their artistic elements with their own idiosyncracies and are therefore worth a closer look. Jealous Gods is the Poets’ sixth album released since 2005, so at this point they have had plenty of time, space, and resources to find their art and voices, and they have created a comfortable album that holds few surprises for returning fans. In fact some of the tracks on Jealous Gods function best as continuations of songs from their previous album Temple of Thought, almost like counterpoints, or the response one might expect from a conversation partner if the Temple of Thought tracks were viewed as opening lines of dialogue. I’m thinking specifically of the title track “Jealous Gods”, which connects back to Temple of Thought‘s most weary track “Skin”, and also of “Brighter than the Sun” (one of Jealous Gods‘ high points), which echoes the previous title track “Temple of Thought” with magnificent resonance. But the Poets should be wary of resting on their creative laurels. One only has to check out the artwork on a few Cake albums to see the dangers of formulaic art.

Bright Spots

Nothing says soulful quite like a bowler hat.
Nothing says “soulful” quite like a bowler hat.
  • Track 5, “Hounds to Hamartia”, would be remarkable even if it didn’t have clean enunciation and tight instrumentation, for the simple reason that I haven’t heard anyone use the word “hamartia” properly since I took my last Classics class in undergrad.
  • Track 6, “Rogue”, is a decent guitar instrumental that happily skips along the line between the technical proficiency required for heavy metal speed, and the easy-to-follow lines and licks of a pop guitar solo. The introduction for this track reminded me of “FiXXXer” by Metallica, and coming from me, that’s a compliment.
  • Track 8, “Brighter Than the Sun”, drops some of the album’s best lyrical gems in the most off-handed way, such as a reference in the song’s chorus to the love given by the person the song is addressed to, raising the singer up until he is ready to be himself. Material like this makes me want to sit down with Marko for a cup of tea. Or perhaps a goblet of fire wine. Your call, Marko. Any time.
  • The album’s closing track, “Rebirth”, speaks just as eloquently of sadness, grief, determination and love as my favorite track off of Temple of Thought (“The Ballad of Jeremiah Peacekeeper”). This track would be a perfect 5 out of 5 if it weren’t for the reference to Tinkerbell. Poets of the Fall and Disney are kept in separate corners in my mind. The two should never mix.

Sun Spots

No, Marko, I will not let you burn.
No, Marko, I will not let you burn.
  • Not all of Marko’s vocals have the clean enunciation that grace “Hounds to Hamartia”. “Rumors”, “Choice Millionaire”, and “Jealous Gods” were all difficult to understand at times. “Choice Millionaire” particularly frustrated me, though I understood that its spoken word chatter was meant to be more noise than signal.
  • I found track 9, “Clear Blue Sky”, difficult to focus on and its lyrics seemed more generic than the Poets’ usual material. It was the album’s least gripping track and I missed Marko’s usual diamond-brilliant imagery.
  • Sometimes the Poets’ lyrics, while great material, raise questions in my mind that never get answered and this can get pretty frustrating for me. For example, in track 10, “Nothing Stays the Same”, the chorus is “When sorrow calls my name, I know nothing stays the same”; I found myself wondering, does this mean Marko gets sad because good things are impermanent, or does it mean that when Marko is already sad, he reminds himself that the pain is impermanent? I realize the answer is probably “yes”, but I wanted to hear that answer in the lyrics and I wanted that answer to be dwelt upon and explicated. Instead, I was left to do the heavy lifting of philosophical thought all by myself.

If you’ve never listened to Poets of the Fall before, you owe it to yourself to check out something by them, but I’m not sure I would recommend Jealous Gods as a starting point. I’m also not sure whether my personal preference for Temple of Thought has a sound basis in artistic strength, or if it’s simply the case that Temple of Thought was the first Poets album I ever heard all the way through and people frequently hold onto a fondness for the first example they encounter of something destined to be a personal favorite. In either case, even if I don’t think Jealous Gods to be the Poets’ best work, it’s beyond decent and at $10.99 for a digital copy, you’ll get your money’s worth.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.