“O Philomena,” sings Colin Meloy on his band’s return after a four-year hiatus – because Jills and Judys clearly don’t excite his quill like the polysyllabic hottie he implores to “open up your linen lap and let me go down.” With sultry ooh-wahs and chiming guitars, “Philomena” might be the catchiest cunnilingus tribute since Foxy Brown’s “Candy,” and it shows a band refreshed, enriching its trademark folk rock with Seventies pop plushness and hooks.
It’s a good move for a crew whose lexically intoxicated smarty-pants instincts can get the best of it. “Cavalry Captain” flaunts bright Chicago IX brass and backing vocals à la the Carpenters’ Now & Then; “Lake Song” is a perfect evocation of Nick Drake’s fleecy Bryter Layter. Maybe because Meloy is now a published author (he’s penned a trilogy of popular children’s books), his songwriting wit seems to have grown sharper and less showoff-y. Even the cheeky prodigal-son overture “The Singer Addresses His Audience” (“We know you built your lives around us”) lands compelling points about art, fame, fandom and self-determination. Elsewhere, head takes a back seat to heart. “We already wrecked the rental car/And I’ve already lost my way,” Meloy sings on “Mistral,” and you don’t need Wikipedia to feel his pain.