Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.5 out of 5
Critical consensus tends to laud There's Never Been A Crowd Like This while considering this a lesser effort. I've always seen this the other way around. TNBACLT did have some intricate production, but to me it all sounded a little samey and production for the sake of production. I feel that Davies' songwriting is much better on Barbarians, his third solo album, and lets the production serve the songs instead of the other way around.
As it is, the first three tracks of Barbarians are among Davies' best. "Coldest Day" opens the album to a slightly ominous, yet still inviting note, while "Palo Alto" is a gliding acoustic driven number with some cool delayed vocals. Even better is "Stars," which has been randomly appearing in my head for the past seven years and is a refined version of the masterful guitar psych of The Moles.
Indeed, Davies makes a full return to the lo-fi garage clamor of the Moles on "Great Republic." It's the kind of variation that I felt was missing on TNBACLT.
Admittedly, this is a front loaded album, and the second half of the disc is like a more stripped down version of TNBACLT (and once again drifting into Robyn Hitchcock territory). Still, this gives his songs a little more room to breathe, and once again Davies' awesome vocals adds a much needed layer to tracks like "Formulas." Besides, it's still a short album at 33 minutes and can survive a little bit of a sound plateau.
As a context note, the Australian Davies had immigrated to America by the time of this album. The word is that Barbarians is a bit of a protest, social-issue album, and I guess the lyrics are a little less abstract than usual. Still, there's enough abstraction that I would have never caught on if someone hadn't told me. I guess the cover would hint at that too. Maybe I'm just not that smart.
Richard Davies - 2000 - Barbarians