ALBUM REVIEW: Real Estate Paint Their Masterpiece on ‘The Main Thing’

Like hearing from an old friend.

Disclaimer: I am an unashamed and unapologetic Real Estate fanboy, which should come as no surprise to regular readers of my record ramblings. I am, to paraphrase a line from their new album-opener “Friday,” so glad these guys exist.

In my entire lifetime of record-buying, this is the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered an album sight unseen just because of the band. So you can imagine the worry that led up to this album being released; these things rarely work out for me. What if it sucks?! What if the band is in a rut? What if they go completely Self Portrait on us and release an album so abysmal it makes me question why I ever liked them in the first place? And now, the big day: release day. Was it worth it?

Simply put, Real Estate have released their masterpiece.

Every song on The Main Thing, every last one, has caused me to stop whatever I was doing and allow myself to just be carried along with the music. I’m on my third go-round as I write this paragraph, and each subsequent listen has been just as special as the first time.

I’ve barely accomplished anything today, mesmerized by the sound of this album: the atmospheric keys; the hypnotic guitar-playing of Julian Lynch, who goes above and beyond to cement his status as this band’s lead guitarist (no longer relegated to “replacement” status); Martin Courtney’s world-weary voice, equal parts hope and melancholy; Alex Bleeker’s loping bass, whose playing is featured more prominently in the mix than on previous albums to show how integral he is to the Real Estate sound.

Then there are Martin Courtney’s lyrics. I don’t know of anyone else right now who is writing lyrics as timeless and graceful as he has been, songs that refuse to be locked into a certain place or time. Going back to 2012’s Days, Courtney has shown a deft hand at documenting the internal changes that happen to all of us, the simple hopes and fears of both growing up and growing old. With everything that’s going on outside of us right now, Courtney presents a life unaffected, or rather a life that worries more about what’s going on inside rather than outside, providing comfort and a respite from all the bad news that gets shoved in our face daily.

In other words, it’s nice to have an album that is as warm and inviting as this one, one that says “we’ll get through this.” Nowhere is this more evident than on the title track: “Despite the crushing weight / of all that’s on our plate / Despite the true significance / of everything at stake / I will stay true.” It’s that kind of reassurance that carries this whole album.

Or take the final verse of “Silent World,” which reads like a love letter to his children but could also be taken as a love letter to the fans: “Tell me you’re better off / Can’t let you wander off / Out in this wicked world / Stay in the silent world.”

This is a double LP, albeit one of the shortest doubles I’ve ever heard at only 48 minutes. On the one hand, being able to take this album in small chunks is akin to listening to four great EPs. On the other hand, these songs are so good that getting up to flip the record after a mere 11-12 minutes seems like unnecessary interruptions to a magnificent flow of perhaps the greatest collection thus far of Real Estate’s career. Each song flows gently into the next, making The Main Thing as much a singular piece as it is a fantastic collection of songs.

So, having said all of this and knowing the kind of fanboy I am, it’s fair to ask if I’m being biased. I am, but let me say this: had I not heard of Real Estate beforehand, I daresay I would’ve had the exact same experience I had when I first heard Atlas in 2014, where I went to the counter at Mad World Records and proclaimed that I wanted, no, needed to buy this album.

It’s been three years since Real Estate’s last album, In Time, and hearing The Main Thing is like hearing from a dear friend you haven’t talked to in three years, only to pick up exactly where you’d left off. Here’s hoping we hear again from them soon.

Score: ☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️ / 5

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