The story of the second Margot and the Nuclear So-and-Sos album is a pretty unpleasant one -- as rumour says, the label didn't like the band's sophomore album "Animal!", leading to some conflict with the band.
The compromise: "Not Animal," a more label-friendly album, released alongside a vinyl-only release of the original "Animal." (They have some of the same songs, though)
Don't worry, though. "No Animal" is not a radio-friendly pop confection, nor is it a trend-hopping MTV-esque album styled for mass consumption. It may not be the album that Margot And the Nuclear So-and-Sos wanted to put out, but its vividly blurry music and mournfully warped pop sensibilities are gloriously intact -- and listening to it is a little like taking an acid-fueled weekend in a beach house to nurse your wounds.
It opens with a blurry, stormy synth-folker, with Richard Edwards mournfully singing of"I don't know you/and I don't owe you a thing/you smile so hard it hurts/just when things get worse" and of children going nuts in "such uncertain times." It's followed by the shimmering, lyrically fragmented "German Motor Car," and the mellow guitar ballad "Broad Ripple Is Burning."
After that the band sinks into darker, stranger territory -- and oh, does it get strange and dark -- and their songs reflect this accordingly. Growly blues songs strung with violin, delicate chamberpop tunes, soaring ballads filled with tolling bells, tinkly buzzing indiepop, countryish ballads exploding into carnival stateliness, squealing roiling masses of chaotic rock'n'roll, and a rollicking synth-edged rocker. The finale is a seemingly simple acoustic melody that mutates to epic expanses ("Oh darlin' stop crying/and start smiling..."). And crazy laughter.
Though this is supposedly the label-friendly album, "Not Animal" is not exactly the stuff of mainstream pandering -- how can it be, with a song called "Hello Vagina" and lines like "I want to gouge out your eyes, splinter your spine/your spine cracks like a wineglass"? But while Margot and the Nuclear So-and-Sos are less enthusiastic in this album, their vivid songwriting and brilliant musical skills make this head-and-shoulders above most pop out there. Ah, fuzzy chamberpop bliss.
And they one-up the fuzzed-out chamberpop of their last album -- most of these songs are epic stretches of guitar intertwined with swathes of shivering synth, and the whole thing is blanketed in a heavy blanket of fuzz. Add some acoustic guitar, piano, bright trumpets, woobly synth and some truly lovely violin solos, as well as the odder flourishes -- colourful keyboard, xylophone, twittering cricket-like sounds, distorted voices, laughter and a tolling church bell that seems to add to the song's melancholy.
It sounds rather chaotic, but their melodies are actually rather catchy and alluring, and even soar up to epic heights at time -- "As Tall as Cliffs" reaches a heart-stopping climax of fuzz bass, for instance. The one problem would be "The Shivers (I Got 'Em)" -- long stretches are heavy leaden hard-rock that doesn't fit in with the rest of the world.
Richard Edwards still has that smooth, gloriously mournful voice, and he sounds vaguely depressed no matter what kind of song it is. Then again, these songs have plenty to be depressed about -- armies, drugs, booze, Midwestern misery, the end of Bollywood, and a pervasive feeling of despair -- and Edwards' songs bring them to life with odd phrases ("cold kind and lemon eyes") and slightly eccentric, acid-tinged looks at the world ("And if my woman was a fire/She'd burn out before I wake/And be replaced by pints of whiskey/Cigarettes and outer space...").
"Not Animal" is the less favored child of Margot and the Nuclear So-and-Sos, but while it may not be an "Animal," it's a pop album worth listening to many times. Definitely worth checking out.