Perhaps there is a great leap forward in the future of The Tallest Man on Earth, but this isn’t it.
You can’t copy your idols forever, no matter how hard you try. This is the lesson that Kristian Matsson, a.k.a. The Tallest Man on Earth, learned after three albums of solid folk that invited more than a few comparisons to Bob Dylan. His first attempt to move on from this, Dark Bird Is Home, was a modest success if only that the introduction of synthesizers opened a few new artistic avenues for Matsson to explore. Sadly, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream has none of that album’s modest desire to move beyond its comfort zone. Rather than a step forward, the album finds Matsson rooted in a sense of sleepy stasis.
Here, Matsson seems to be following the edict of improving quality via addition. I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream is by far the most complex production of his career so far. In contrast to the spare folk of earlier records, Fever Dream introduces organs and horn sections in an attempt to give Matsson’s compositions a more lush, enveloping feel. At times, it strays away from Dylan-style folk and veers closer to the studied pop of Paul Simon, albeit without the sense of casual playfulness that one associates with that style. The reverb applied to most of the tracks adds another layer of grandiosity, as if Matsson is trying to borrow either from Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound or the stadium rock of U2. (The fact that his voice occasionally slips into a Bono-esque cadence implies the latter). At its best, Fever Dream is a reinforcement of the sort of compositional complexity that Matsson was striving towards on his previous album.
Sadly, the songs on Fever Dream just don’t cut it from either a melodic or a lyrical standpoint. The album has no standout moments to speak of; it just kind of pleasantly floats along from song to song before one suddenly realizes that it’s ended. Matsson sings with passion throughout, but his words don’t land with the sort of gut-punch that he seems to be striving for, and the result is a man feeling overwrought over nothing. One should hesitate to say that the emperor has no clothes here; a more appropriate description would be that Matsson has run into a roadblock in either what he wants to write about or how he wants to write about it. For all the changes in how Matsson’s music sounds on Fever Dream, there isn’t much substantial change, only cosmetic change.
Perhaps Matsson is still struggling to figure out his place in the musical landscape. As many, many songwriters will tell you, it’s difficult to bounce back and establish oneself after getting slapped with the “new Dylan” tag, especially given that Matsson’s early albums very much invited the comparisons. I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream is a successive album of growing pains, but what was once novel about Matsson’s expanding sonic palette has grown a bit weary over time. Perhaps there is a great leap forward in the future of The Tallest Man on Earth, but I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream isn’t it.