The Post Romantic Empire Album
Our Sweetest Songs
If we were doing a We Are the World concert to save the starving kids in the third world today, this would be a great lineup. (How are those kids doing, anyway? Still starving? Ah, the power of overpaid pop stars... ) This collection looks back to the classical sound that defined highbrow music generations ago. Can Rimsky-Korsakov or Little Willie work in today's Indie Pop universe?
We open with three movements of "The Story of ShÃ©hÃ©razade." "Le Roi" is a cello- and piano-driven piece with Roger O'Donnell on piano and Julia Kent on cello. It's a contemplative number that's both melancholy and introspective. In this legendary Persian story, the king was cuckolded by his first wife, and he set off raping and murdering all the high-level virgins in his kingdom. Movement two, "The Princess," seems more positive; it's the same musicians, but now the clever daughter of the vizier enters, and with her complex set of stories gleaned from classic literature she strings the king along, never quite finishing a story until dawn. It's a dangerous game of Persian Roulette, but she wins the king's favor in "Les Deux," and many a young woman sighs in relief at her success.
We now leave the glory days of the caliphate and head down to New Orleans, where "The House of the Rising Sun" takes on post-Animals energy. This version is 20 minutes long; it's up there with classic rock workouts like "Stairway to Heaven," "Nantucket Sleigh Ride," and anything in the Yes/ Pink Floyd/ King Crimson catalog. This version is Robitussin slow; Baby Dee sings occasional lines with a raspy blues vocal. She's beyond being abused by no-good men, and this song takes her to the back stoop of hell where Satan himself has to go to smoke these days. Grab an extra beer and back up chips, it is going to be a long night.
Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" reappears; here it's been deconstructed into a dreamy collage of acoustic guitars and finger cymbals. It's like the punks and the stadium rockers never existed, and the psychedelic mind-exploders merged straight into the post-punk art rockers. It's great music, and great music not only stands the test of time but the transposition of keys and styles.
New Order's "Dreams Never End" undergoes nearly the same re-arrangement and now sounds like a sad "I Am" number from a forgotten Sondheim musical. The vocals come from Gitane Demone, and the synth pop backing track is now another cello and piano exercise in self-inflicted misery. We are nearly done... choral music and a simple piano along with children's ensemble re-imagines "Annarella." It's small, sweet, and somehow reminiscent of a certain Spinal Tap unreleased track.
All in all, this is post-modern rock and roll recast as medieval cathedral chanting. The sex and drugs are long gone, and all that is left are human voices and elemental instrument parings.