Listening to a new Steve Eggers/Nines album is like watching the New England Patriots play football. You keep on expecting the Canadian singer-songwriter to lay a big fat goose egg, waiting for his deal with the devil to expire and have him write normal everyday songs that go in one ear and out the other.
But it never happens. Eggers is doing something right, and his latest two albums confirm that he continues to be one of the best songwriters in pop music.
Shipwrecked, released in August, is subtitled “Eggers Songbook, Vol. 1.” Although it’s technically a Nines album, Eggers plays all the instruments and vocals and produces and mixed the full album. It is, in essence, a solo project.
He takes the simplest of melodies in “Don’t Ever Lose Your Control” and builds on it, creating a piano-driven mid-tempo rocker, straying occasionally with an innovative bridge. He channels Steely Dan in “Danielle (You Know It’s True),” but Eggers has a better sense of melody than Donald Fagen, and the song turns into a Beatlesque gem.
Eggers is perhaps his best when he sits down to a piano and just picks out his songs, seemingly out of thin air. You can almost see him finding the phrasing extemporaneously for “A Shadow Is All I See” and the closing number, “Old Refrain.” They are both memorable ballads. “Making It Better” has a shuffled percussion similar to “Get Back” and “Ooh La La La” backing vocals that recall “You Won’t See Me,” but again, the chords and melody are all Eggers. It’s like he’s channeling all his contemporaries but giving them his own twist.
Many of the songs on Shipwrecked were written while Eggers was going through a stressful period. As I do, Eggers plays to escape, and his songs are a form of therapy. What comes out may not necessarily be what he is feeling; the result is usually well-crafted, natural-sounding pop songs that seem to raise the listener’s spirits – no matter what his mood is.
McKeon, in contrast, is what Steve Eggers calls his New Wave record – think Howard Jones, Scritti Politti. But don’t let him fool you. Sure, there are synthesizer-driven songs throughout the record, but this is full-on Eggers. No matter what medium he uses – synthesizers, strings, guitars – he still approaches each song with the same pop sensibilities to be found on his other releases. And that’s a good thing.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the final two songs, which sound like they could be part of a suite. Eggers double-tracks his vocals on “Still Be Here,” one octave apart, while an orchestra, keyboard and drums lay the foundation. It seamlessly gives way to “Laura (She’s the One)” features a 70s (not 80s!) sound on the keyboard and a touch of strings accompanying Eggers, who sings, “Don’t give up on love / It finds you when you least expect it to.”
In speaking of Shipwrecked, Eggers said, ” I’ve been lucky to have these sounds in my head all my life that translate themselves into little songs.” No, we’re lucky. No matter what decade Eggers tries to emulate, those sounds still shine through. And that’s what’s so satisfying about listening to a new record from him.