With the long-awaited new release Pneumonia, Whiskeytown has stepped down from their previous held esteem as a true alt-country band. Listening to this album all I could do was bemoan, "Oh where, oh where has my Whiskeytown gone?"
Gone are the gritty guitars, gone are the driving rhythms, gone is their signature rough-edge and sweet lo-fi country simplicity of their previous two albums Stranger's Almanac and Faithless Street. Instead we are left with a pathetic attempt to follow in the over-produced, pop stardom footsteps that enticed such musicians as Elliott Smith off the deep end trying to reach the mass market.
The first few songs are decent melodic little riffs full of the kind of longing we found and loved on Ryan Adams' solo album, Heartbreaker, but lacking that heartfelt, country loveliness. When the overly sappy song with offensively poor lyrics "Don't be Sad" arrives we start feeling cheated. But it gets worse. At precisely mid-album there is an absolute breakdown. "Mirror, Mirror," "Paper Moon" and "What the Devil Wanted" sound like the soundtrack to a cheesy musical -- full of that poppy, over-produced, faux-cinematic, Rufus-Wainwright-confusion that cannot, under any terms, be considered any kind of country and certainly not alt-country. With horns, soft arranged strings and a gaspingly bad Latin song like "Paper Moon," it was hard to even continue.
On the whole, Pneumonia is fair at best and at that a lackluster sellout -- an entire album of mediocrity illustrating a band's identity crisis, while grasping at those big dollars on the way down.