‘Jubilee’ is a record unapologetically about joy; such was made clear by it’s lead single ‘Be Sweet’; which bursts into life with a sugary-sweet chorus of “Be sweet to me baby / I want to believe in you”. ‘Paprika’, meanwhile, is surreally utopian and dream-like, as Zauner asks “How does it feel to be at the centre of magic?”
If ‘Jubilee’, and it’s full-throttled embrace of joy, feels out of character for the band, rest assured that it’s not. ‘Jubilee’ exists in the knowledge that joy in its abstract is meaningless; only when laid against the backdrop of suffering can it’s magnitude be fully appreciated. Even the album’s sweetest moments contain hints of darkness. ‘Be Sweet’, a piece of retro synth-pop that would’ve made Prince proud, hints at a broken relationship not-yet-repaired (“Recognize your mistakes”, “Realize not too late, loved you always”). ‘Paprika’, meanwhile takes a sudden and disconcerting dark turn towards the end. After recounting the joy of “projecting your visions to strangers, who feel it, who listen, who linger on every word”, Zauner briefly becomes paralysed with concern about being returning to solitude (“But alone it feels like dying / All alone I feel so much”).
Other tracks, meanwhile, are more straightforwardly melancholic. ‘In Hell’ is an emotional gut-punch of epic proportions; an understated track of heartbreak placed jarringly after the surreal ‘Savage Good Boy’. Behind the straightforward acoustic instrumentation are lyrics of stunning sadness, as Zauner recounts putting her dog to sleep. The track begins with the breath-taking line: “With my luck you’ll be dead within the year / I’ve come to expect it”, before Zauner goes onto describe the process of euthanizing her dog in excruciating detail: “Snowed you in with hydrocodone” “Wheeled you in and laid on your side / I cried and cried and at my signal / They stopped your heart and then you died”. The track is punctuated by a chorus of “Hell is finding someone to love / And I can’t see you again”, that would be unbearable, if it wasn’t so sonically brilliant.
‘Jubilee’ spends the entirety of it’s run time contrasting the highs of joy and the low of the inevitable resulting comedown. ‘Kokomo, IN’: an epic example of Indie-rock perfection that channels Soccer Mommy and boygenius, switches between post-breakup reality (“These days I can’t shake the awful feeling / I’m missing something I can’t place”) and the bittersweet nostalgia of the past (“God, I felt so much back then / I was soft as a dune”). The transitions between joy and heartache aren’t as disconcerting as on previous track, and the track gradually moves from despair to nostalgia to pure, unmitigated heart-ache. As the song reaches it’s end, Zauner begins to doubt she deserves the relationship (“Maybe I’m not that worthy”), but still longs for it with heart-breaking intensity (“If you ever come back / Wherever you find your way to / And though it may not last / Just know that I’ll be here longing”). As the finger-picked guitar and orchestral instrumentation kicks in at the same time, ‘Kokomo’ quickly builds to surprising emotional intensity.
If these transitions between epic joy and crushing defeat feel unbearable, they’re not (well, ‘In Hell’ may take a while to recover from). ‘Jubilee’ achieves a fine balance and is punctuated my rest bite moments like the bizarre and intoxicating ‘Savage Good Boy’: a scathing critique of capitalism (“I want to make the money ’til there’s no more to be made / And we will be so wealthy I’m absolved from questioning / That all my bad behaviour was just a necessary strain”) to a dystopian, unrecognisable world; where the “city’s underwater” and the protagonist and his wife are “the last ones standing”, “tasked to repopulate”.
‘Jubilee’ ends with ‘Posing for Cars’, a track that sees it’s narrator waking up from a dream where they were left “posing for cars”. It’s simultaneously an ode to the pleasure of being head-over-heels in love and a reminder of the underlying anxiety that it could all one day come to an end. It ends with an 3+ minute guitar solo that says more than words ever could; an epic conclusion to a landmark album.
Best Tracks: ‘In Hell’, ‘Posing For Cars’, ‘Kokomo, IN’, ‘Tactics’, ‘Be Sweet’, ‘Paprika’
Worst Tracks: ‘Side Tackle’, ‘Sit’