Peter Bjorn & John's Writer's Block was easily one of my favorite albums of last year. Those of you who never heard anything beyond "Young Folks" missed out on an album that was layered, varied, and at times surprising (in addition to being packed with earworms). So count me among the fans looking forward to Peter's solo outing, The Last Tycoon. Also, count me among the disappointed.
It is apt, perhaps, that the album is named for F. Scott Fitzgerald's final novel—which was published despite the fact that Fitzgerald died before completing it—because Morén's album feels similarly unfinished. The Last Tycoon sounds like a "solo album" in the truest sense of the phrase: it literally sounds like Morén wanted to make an album free of his rhythm section and co-singers. Missing from the album is any bounce whatsoever, nor harmonies, nor variation of song style—not to mention Bjorn Yttling's production abilities. Way up front in the mix, instead, are Morén's guitar and voice.
The album is driven almost entirely by its lyrical content rather than its melodies. Listening to "This is What I Came For" or "I Don't Gaze at the Sky for Long," you can envision that Morén penned the lines well before picking up his guitar. That process isn't necessarily a recipe for disaster—just ask Leonard Cohen—and the lyrics to The Last Tycoon are noticeably more sophisticated than anything on Writer's Block. But rarely have I ever loved an album based only on its lyrics. Meanwhile, The Last Tycoon's melodies and arrangements just aren't that compelling.
Often Morén's musicianship is top-notch—the guitarwork on "Missing Link" is reminiscent of Elliott Smith's gently fluid finger-picking—but without anyone in the room to tell Morén to get his nose out of his journals, the album never once picks up any kind of momentum. Each of the ten songs feel inert, leaden, self-obsessed. Taken individually, each song is perfectly fine, though rarely much more than that; in a row, The Last Tycoon becomes a chore to get through.