Of Montreal has built a career on exuberant, sweet concept albums that bounce with life and love. "The Gay Parade" is a snapshot of them at their best -- it has the strangeness of "Cocquelicot," but is more accessable. These songs cheery oddball pop, but it sounds so uncalculated that it never quite sounds twee.
The acoustic/piano-ballad "Old Familiar Way" starts off the album, but it mostly focuses on how "It's amazing the wonders you can find/Just by stepping outside." Only at the end does Kevin Barnes greet listeners with "Welcome to the Gay Parade!" The album then switches to a bunch of songs about the glorious people, such as the bouncy dancey "Fun-Loving Nun," singsong "Tulip Baroo," and "The Miniature Philosopher."
While describing boxers, grandfathers and stuttering organ grinders, Barnes and Co. don't stray away from their typical little sweet songs: there's a carnival sound to "March of the Gay Parade," a goofy little sweet song. Elsewhere Barnes sings eagerly about the "Domestic Life," longs for special friends, and chronicles the story of Niki Coco, before finally bidding farewell in "The Gay Parade Outro."
The entire album more or less revolves around the Gay Parade, and how much happier the people in it (and near it) are. The general feeling is that it's not so much a real gathering as a state of mind -- enjoying the little things, "making friends with trees and animals," and seeing the magic of the world.
The songs rely heavily on Barnes' acoustic guitar, and the sweet piano pop that comes into the intro and outro. Little chimes and psychedelic swooshes give it an even more whimsical feel. And an electric organ gives a sort of dancey fun feel to "Fun Loving Nun," to the point where it's hard to notice Barnes' weird lyrics.
Kevin Barnes has that sort of likably offbeat voice that really sounds good in oddball pop. Sort of like Jeff Mangum, but a bit less nasal. And the songwriting is either goofy ("I'd be a yellow feathered loon for you baby/Be a German shepherd on the moon for you baby") or brilliant ("He would suddenly appear at Meg's door/He'd rent a mariachi band and respectfully demand/His dear Meg to take his hand/And to be his forever more"). You make the call -- often they're both.
Somehow the most enjoyable part of the whole thing is where where Barnes solemnly informs us, "Now that you know the way/And perhaps someday/You'll be able to stay with us/Forever inside the gay parade." In other words, hit repeat.