It takes a very brave rock frontman to sing, "I am a happy yellow bumble bee/I fly around the flowers and trees." But Kevin Barnes is not an ordinary frontman. Of Montreal is not an ordinary band. And "The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy" is an extraordinary concept album, both whimsical and poignant.
The album seems to follow a love affair: people being attracted to each other, falling in love and getting that glorious buzz from it, becoming close and comfortable, but ("Only losing something beautiful could make a person feel this way") finally splitting in heartbreak. At first it seems rather sugary, but repeated listens show that it's actually very wrenching.
It opens with a bouncy, buzzy ode called "One of a Very Few of a Kind," followed by the chirrupy "Happy Yellow Bumblebee." The narrator vows "I will be a good boy and never tell you the bad things that I think about." They head to the sensuous "Honeymoon in San Francisco," followed by a string of cutesy little songs that talk about "my panda bear" and "my cutie pie."
But then things go downhill, starting with the poignant "Please Tell Me So." Then he admits, "But sweetheart, incredibly it's true..../that your cutie pie has forgotten what he saw in you," but then pleads with her not to go. The narrative ends with heartbreak, flipping through photographs and nursing his pain.
The Japanese import has an extra two tracks, which give a slightly cheerier end to the story, where he's still heartbroken but learning to live with it. "In the Army Kid" has a gentle rejection because "you're not my type," and "Montreal Makes Me Sad Again" has the aftermath. He's still sad, but "it doesn't help me to complain/I just have to feel it until it goes away." It ends on a plaintive note with, "I'm afraid that I'll close up inside/And no longer feel anything anymore/It's such a strange need to be deprived of/To just want to love and feel happy."
"Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy" is well-named -- it's a tragedy, but a very personal, petite one. Anyone who has ever fallen in love, but had that love fall through, will see a bit of themselves in this album. It's less goofy and more serious than Of Montreal's other albums, and it suits them well.
The music is relatively low on the weirdness scale. It sounds like a blend of the Beatles and Beach Boys -- mellow and sweet. Most of it was guitars and piano, with sweeps of organ, harmonica, tambourines and the occasional horn. But sometimes we get stuff like the representation of the "Couple's First Kiss": party horns, carnival sounds and a sweet music box melody.
Of Montreal's "Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy" is overshadowed by other brilliant albums. But this one is psychedelic pop for lovers nursing a broken heart.