The newest release from Umphrey’s McGee, “You Walked Up Shaking in Your Boots but You Stood Tall and Left a Raging Bull“, is unique for more than the ample characters that make up its title. For starters, it’s an album built of songs that were previously reserved for the ‘intro’ portion of the set. The prologue for the opener. An hors d’oeuvres.
Just as one cannot read a book of prefaces, it sounds daunting to listen to an album of introductions. Would the band be able to expand these proems of accretion into full fledged songs? For the most part, the answer is yes. Umphrey’s has more than meager meals on the menu. The album struggles when the listener is left with jamband blue balls, witnessing drastic disconnects right when the musical subplot is starting to develop. The album is successful when the Introductions reflect back on their original themes while growing into comprehensive tunes with emotive sections, slick segues and pyrotechnic solos. The Umphrey’s-faithful who journey out into this unique audio excursion will find that many of tracks on the album have all of that.
This includes the album’s leading track. Catshot perfectly reflects its roots while taking the tune beyond accession status. The intro on this album of intros, Catshot was tailor made to amplify Umphrey’s inherent energy. A simple, haunting piano slowly walks the song forward, unhurriedly joined by the rest of the band as they build towards a layered and complex crescendo. Despite the fact that it ends abruptly, Catshot is successful in setting the tone and laying the foundation for the rest of the album.
No Crying in Mexico is the first song which suffers under the restraints of limited track time. While it is longer than Catshot, it takes awhile before the tune really dials in. When it does, it is glorious, combining Floydesque guitar tones with a unexpected dance party, taking what was once a random rock-and-roller into a new realm. The song cuts out too quickly after its apex, leaving listeners thirsty for further development.
Leave Me Las Vegas is a plodding, distorted lurcher tune that does not vary much from its live iterations, a throw away on the album. Stasik’s amazing legato runs, hidden in the mix, are the track’s only true treat. Leave Me Las Vegas needs more time to evolve, and needs to move beyond the trudging main riff to feel like more than just a foundation.
Depth Charge and You’ve Got the Wrong Guy also do not stray far from the renditions we have seen live, but it feels like there is more to build with here. The segue between the two is absolutely incredible and is the highlight of both tunes. Joined together, they form a far more satisfying song experience than they ever could standing alone. Hopefully, from now, on Depth Charge & Wrong Guy will be forever intertwined.
The second longest song on the album, Tango Mike has more emotional depth than all of the previous tunes combined. A reflective and poignant guitar leads in over the first minute until it is joined by the rest of the band. A separate fuzzy guitar joins the blend and brings a classic rock tone that really emphasizes the pensive mood of the song. Towards the conclusion, the song glides out of its rocky chorus into the main riff, and fades gently in satisfying fashion, a rarity on an album where some song-endings seem like afterthoughts.
Nipple Trix is a stunt show, a six string shredfest saturated in speedy solos crafted by neck wandering digits. The axe is accompanied by a quick fingered synth solo whose sound amplifies the already high levels of excitement. Sadly, after all of this build, the song simply fizzles out. The finale is completely unsatisfying, considering the two minutes of fireworks that precede it.
Le Blitz suffers from a similar fate as Leave Me Las Vegas. It’s more energetic than LMLV, but lacks the amazing Stasik fancy finger runs. A shuffling rock riff without a bridge, notable solos or unique soundscapes, Le Blitz is largely forgettable, save for the segue into its more interesting neighbor, Le Sac.
The only completely new material on this disc, Le Sac is a prepossessing and lightweight song which easily outshines its neighboring tracks. Twinned guitars envelop around elegant piano and evoke happy tears. This is the most beautiful track on the album. Le Sac isn’t so much an Intro as it is an Outro, and would make an unbelievable epilogue to an especially epic set.
There is a lot of energy in Gurgle, but much like Nipple Trix, it fires up and fizzles like a sparkler. All of the the segments are wonderful – the weird phaser-like throaty lead-in, the driven guitar riff – but epic sections or incendiary solos never materialize. Gurgle has a ton of promise, and not enough time.
The final two tracks on the album are two of the best. A song that can certainly be described as cinematic, Restrung is walk-in-slowmo music. The track is a reworking of the intro Unsung Hero. Joel is a highlight throughout the song. An unending simple and pretty piano is juxtaposed alongside prominent, midi-esque keys that lead the Restrung with an air of extravagance generally saved for royalty. Thoughtful and well placed six strings adorn the riff, and build a song that is both melodic and energetic at once. The conclusion cleanly passes into the next track perfectly, nearly fusing the two.
If there is an opus on this disc, it is October Rain. The album’s finale feels like the most well developed track of the dozen and is extremely enjoyable. A microcosm of the album itself, the song is crafted by well developed build/crescendo segments. October Rain dances in on mysterious guitars, and light hand drums before being joined by a wandering piano riff and amplified by the developing thunder of Kris’ drums. Twice, there is a minor build – wonderfully punctuated by Stasik’s bass riff – before exploding into free flying guitars. The band tapers the energy momentarily before relaunching with a vibrancy unlike anywhere else on the album. Here, the focus on Kris’ energy is delightful, the snare and cymbal work reminiscent of Math Rock, delivering fervent support at the exact right moments for energize and emotional emphasis. Now that this song has burgeoned into its own full-fledged epic, it deserves a spot mid-setlist.
Most of the drawbacks to this disc are found in the limitations of the short form chosen, with many tracks that feel like they’re just about to get cooking before they abruptly halt. The band could have gotten a lot more out of No Crying in Mexico, Gurgle, and Nipple Trix if they had more room to breathe. They’re too good to remain preludes.
Now that many of these Introductions have stretched into true songs, it would be cool to hear them worked into the center of the setlist. The desire to see these offerings flourish as something larger than a preface is likely in the heart of every Umphreak, and it would be neat if they could be opened up as an avenue of improvisational exploration.
It’s almost surprising how successful You Walked Up Shaking In Your Boots but You Stood Tall and Left a Raging Bull is at creating a cohesive package from songs that were never meant to be more than prefaces. The transitions between songs create a satisfying journey that cannot be appreciated when listed to on shuffle. As always, Umphrey’s is willing to an auditory risk in the studio and walk away from the experiment largely successful.
For the most part, on You Walked Up Shaking in Your Boots but You Stood Tall and Left a Raging Bull, Umphrey’s is serving up more than just appetizers.