Zach Condon is a world traveler. Since his band, Beirut, released their first album, Gulag Orkestar, in 2006 to widespread critical acclaim, it’s been obvious that he’s been everywhere – or at least it feels that way.
Beirut’s music traverses the Balkans and Eastern Europe, picking up a ukulele from Hawaii along the way, only to return back to New York City to be a part of its indie rock scene after sending its regards from Italy. As a result, the music Condon makes under his band’s moniker has always been nearly impossible to pin down, not quite as bizarre as Gogol Bordello, but definitely thousands of miles away from the rest of the bands inhabiting his former adopted hometown of Brooklyn.
Each album is a sort of game of Where in the World is Zach Condon? and Beirut’s new album, their fifth in 14 years, is yet another aural travelogue. Gallipoli sees Condon & co. bounce between New York and Berlin with a lengthy stop in the medieval heel of the Italian boot. You can see it in the song titles, which include cities like “Corfu” (Greece) and the album’s title track, “Gallipoli” (Italy), alongside the German “On Mainau Island” and “Gauze für Zah” from his time in Berlin.
But while the titles and the album’s backstory create the appearance of an internationally influenced album, the music stays rooted in the spot where Beirut began. The overwhelming and distinct accordion and horn sounds from the band’s early days have been smoothed over throughout the past three records, though they’re a bit more out in force this time around than on 2015’s No No No. These are grand and sweeping compositions, but unlike songs including those from Beirut’s 2007 breakthrough The Flying Club Cup, they drift in and out without leaving much of a lasting mark like beautiful towns on the Italian countryside blending into each other on a lengthy road trip.
This is the kind of late era album that will likely appease the fans that have stuck with the band for a decade plus, without winning over any new ones. The youthful energy of a man trapped in the wrong era that made for the backbone of Beirut’s first two records, the gorgeous showstopper “Goshen” that anchored The Rip Tide, and No No No’s peppy title track have all been traded in for something in the middle, resembling the horns of “The Rip Tide” minus the driving piano underneath.
Nothing throughout the entirety of Gallipoli is bad per se; it just doesn’t feel as vital or entertaining as anything that’s come prior, like the meandering tales of a world-weary traveler who never quite ends up saying anything memorable enough to keep your eyes from wandering throughout the room. It’s pleasant enough to at least hold your attention at points, but not close to maintaining it for its entirety. The songs blend together without revealing any staying power.
Anchored by three instrumentals that see Condon & co. experiment a bit with sounds—the overblown synths throughout “On Mainau Island” are the record’s best example—but that newfound instrumentation never quite finds its way into the album’s vocal-backed tracks. The intro to “Landslide” continues the bizarre instrumental outro build from “Corfo,” only to lose its steam by the time the chorus hits, like a sleepier version of The Rip Tide track “Santa Fe.”
Lead single “Gallipoli” sums up the record’s overall musical direction best – a peculiar instrumental blend to kick things off before a familiar horn section lulls the listener throughout the rest of the song, never building into any of the cathartic release that their early material was chock full of. The end result is an incredibly inoffensive album, one that’s perfectly lovely without offering any striking new ideas or features that make it memorable.