Given how easily I got into Our Endless Numbered Days and The Shepherd’s Dog, Iron & Wine’s latest album, Kiss Each Other Clean should have been a slam dunk. ‘Walking Far from Home’ suggests a path similar to Sufjan Stevens’ recent album, which wasn’t what I expected, but I could live with it. It immediately distinguishes itself from Sam Beam’s earlier work, flexing that newly acquired major label muscle with shiny production values and layered instrumentation. However, whatever goodwill the opening track manages to earn is spent halfway through ‘Me and Lazarus’. I don’t hate the instrument itself, but that damned saxophone manages to ruin the song and does its best to take the album down with it. It reappeared on ‘Big Burned Hand’, just as distracting as before. Experimentation is all well and good, but treading into the field of smooth jazz is more than a little questionable.
Aside from the unfortunate use of saxophone, Kiss Each Other Clean still manages to have a few listenable tracks. ‘Tree by the River’ stands out from the pack, along with ‘Godless Brother in Love’, one of the few songs to embrace the acoustic guitar Beam is known for. For some reason the guitar is generally shunned in favour of the disembodied backing vocals featured on many tracks. The end result is a few good songs surrounded by filler and some downright clunkers. Album closer ‘Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me’ is potentially great, particularly the latter half, but the reappearance of the sax re-opens fresh wounds.
The shift in focus from the acoustic guitar on Our Endless Numbered Days to the rich instrumentation of The Shepherd’s Dog felt organic, but Kiss Each Other Clean’s AM radio vibe feels rather manufactured. I may treat the album more kindly on future listens, but for now I still have the ghost of Kenny G haunting my eardrums.
Tags: Iron & Wine