After nearly three decades of consistently high quality psychedelicfolkgothpowerpoprock,
the Green Pajamas enter the world of the longform narrative. The first half of
the band’s new record Death By
Misadventure consists of “The Fall of the Queen Bee,” a song cycle the
one-sheet insists has no resemblance to anyone living or dead, which means,
like a Law & Order episode, it’s
clearly based on real events. Regardless of whether the tale is true (or is
even a tale at all), the piece finds Jeff Kelly, Eric Lichter and company
exploring some new avenues. The grisly details of “The Queen Bee is Dead” float
over a gyspy waltz with prominent accordion; the same instrument drives the
appropriately-titled “The Queen’s Last Tango.” The grinding feedback of “The
Universe is Full of Noise” (quite) adds a new wrinkle to the PJs’ saga as well.
The quintet inhabits a more familiar universe in the lush “Sky Blue Balloon,”
the ringing “You Can’t Look” and the sadly beautiful “Wrong Home,” which brings
the experiment to a close on a perfectly crafted, quietly emotional note.
But “The Fall of the Queen Bee” is only half of the story
here. (Shades of 2112.) The other
half, entitled “Cruel Dreams, Cruel Things,” doesn’t rely on narrative drive,
being simply a collection of songs. The harpsichord-laced “In the Moonlight
Dim” weaves dark fantasy lyrics and a jaunty tune into a track that beats anything
on the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. The rocking “Supervirgin” and “Beat Me Sally” and the more lilting
“Carrie” revisit the sense of whimsy that has mostly taken a back seat to
serious concerns in the past several albums. “The Spell” (from which the
subtitle is taken) is a brooding slice of Latin jazzy balladry, while “A Piece
of a Dream” is simply a classic piece of PJs acid pop.
Given the high quality of Kelly and Lichter’s songwriting,
it would have been easy for the PJs to simply ride their previously established
groove. But Death By Misadventure, by
virtue of ambition and a few new wrinkles, puts the band on the next step
forward in its marvelous 30 year career.
Piece of the Dream,” “Wrong Home,” “The Queen’s Last Tango” MICHAEL TOLAND