Unfortunately, the elements of soul and psych-rock that sprinkle some fun into UMO’s recordings completely evaporate in this new form. “Swim and Sleep Like a Shark” flops hard, losing the weirdness that had made this song compelling. Meanwhile, “Faded in the Morning” originally relied on the punch of its electric guitar to drive a strong beat, so it’s disheartening that here the song feels not only lifeless but also far lengthier.
It’s not difficult to see why these songs fall apart. A serious flaw of Blue Record is the tragically small morsel of effort that Nielson put into it. Had he attempted to modify these songs in any way before recording, this album could perhaps satisfy listeners by doing something new. As it stands, this album lacks any original ideas and just sounds purposeless.
Nielson’s cover of Dirty Projectors’ “Swing Lo Magellan” is the only vaguely enjoyable moment on this album, but even here, he messes up. “Swing Lo Magellan” was originally performed on an acoustic guitar and is itself a song about finding direction. True to form, Nielson ignores the potential here and provides lighter, unabsorbing takes on the song’s guitar and vocals. His failure to take advantage of this material points to the fundamental reason for the album’s undoing: Ruban Nielson and the acoustic guitar are not compatible. I don’t know why Nielson ever thought they were.