Album Review: Portugal. The Man "Woodstock"


Woodstock… a legendary time in America’s history where the counterculture rebels against war took to music to demonstrate a firm protest through love, peace, and the ultimate groove. Much like many artists seen after this time, Portugal. The Man wrote their newest album motivated by the voice of the nation Woodstock embodied. The album, Woodstock, was also inspired by lead singer, John Gourley's, finding of his father’s ticket stub for the legendary music festival.

In discovering the name of the album, looking at the edgy and impressionable cover art, and being a fan of their previous work, I was expecting the band to bring us something great. However, my expectation was also for the music to be substantial. I wanted it to say something moving and empowered, much like the songs of the era it was inspired by. I wasn’t the only one expecting this. Gourley himself has also spoken on the point of making this album a piece of commentary towards the political and societal unease of our country’s state.

Unfortunately, nothing about this album is reminiscent of this time, other than its title. Taking a new direction unlike the alternative rock sound we’ve heard from them before, Portugal. The Man strayed far the late ‘60s psychedelics found in Woodstock, and went straight into the 21st century world of pop. Matching simple beats with passive lyrics, this album seems more of something we can dance to rather than something to promote action in a new generation.

“Number One” opens the album with a wonderful extended sample of “Freedom” by Richie Havens. A song that will live forever, “Freedom” is riddled with a sense of urgency in a call for perseverance in the face of adversity. So it is hard to accept a generation of distress as simple nostalgia over “such sweet memories,” as repeated by Gourley in this song.

Skip over to their lead single “Feel It Still”. While listening to this song I actually found myself grooving to it. Though its beat is rather trite and dance-y, I found it to be a catchy deliverance of a very sarcastic message. Providing commentary on the millennial approach towards activism, the band relates to a young American enthralled by the cause, but just for as long as the commotion around it lasts. “I’m a rebel just for kicks now/I’ve been feeling it since 1966 now” perfectly demonstrates our generation’s tendency to jump onto a cause just because it looks like fun. Be aware, at least in my experience, this song is one that you have to listen to about 10 times before you get past the rudimentary sound and start to really like it.  

I guess my biggest disappointment in this album is how Portugal. The Man retreated from its once indie/alternative/rock sound to now bring us to this disingenuous imitation of mainstream pop. Furthermore, my disappointment lies in their attempts at comparing modern social and political issues to one of the most historic times in activism and music. Though a valiant try, the music and passive language devalues an important subject.

“Friends. We know, we get it, 4 years and 10 days have gone by since we put a record out. 35280 hours,” stated the band on a Facebook statement about the album release. As fans, we waited so long for something to really affect us. That’s probably a lot of pressure, but I would have settled for the more offbeat sound I’ve come to know and love from them; especially if it was incorporated alternatively into this new pop feel they have claimed for Woodstock.

Album review by Martha Perez-Mendez

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