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Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It's Going to Last? (Album Review)

Wednesday, 01 September 2021 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Graham Tolbert 

Big Red Machine are neither a supergroup nor a collective—they lack the showy faces of the former, and the shared identity of the latter. Overseen by The National’s Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, it’s more like an open-ended hang with friends in high places.

Their second album ‘How Long Do You Think It's Going to Last?’ pushes this dynamic further than its predecessor, moving into the slipstream behind Dessner and Vernon’s lockdown work on Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’. Swift pops up a couple of times, notably adding some pop wattage to an otherwise woolly and unfocused record with her very Swiftian turn on Renegade.

There are excellent songs here—nothing that would constitute a bad one, in fact—but perhaps the Big Red Machine framework is simply too loose and meandering to corral so many moving parts into something more economical.

At more than an hour in length, the delights of the top half, for example, have long disappeared around a bend by the time the final note rings out.

That top half is pretty magical while it’s happening, though. Anaïs Mitchell and Vernon dovetail beautifully on the characterful opener Latter Days and the ensuing Reese rides a skipping piano line towards a winning autumnal vibe. And before Swift enters the fray, Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold continues the hot streak that produced last year’s wonderful ‘Shore’, pairing with Vernon and Mitchell on the jaunty, homespun Phoenix.

‘How Long Do You Think It's Going to Last?’ might be a prime candidate for a streaming-era pick ‘n’ mix approach, but its studied mood and unerringly consistent palette suggest that it wasn’t intended for that fate. Perhaps the best thing to do is surrender these songs, with their competing voices and jumble of personalities, to the vagaries of personal taste.

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