Though last year’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? earned Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes the biggest hit of his career, most of the band’s new fans don’t realize the group’s been around since 1997. The power of the Internet is amazing; just by branding an album great, the web can push a group with a cult following into the next league. Though it’s not mega-stardom, they can now sell out ballrooms and theaters. That’s pretty big for indie rock fans.
But, as usual, fame comes with a cost. With a wider audience, Barnes now must decide whether to make his existential/surrealist rock more accessible or risk losing everything he gained in 2007. Enter Georgie Fruit, Barnes’ “black shemale” alter ego, running amok on Skeletal Lamping. Moving even further away from the lo-fi/twee sound of his earlier albums and embracing the synth-driven glam that Fauna hinted towards, Skeletal Lamping is a 15 track marathon about fucking. It’s a Prince album as if somehow Prince hadn’t gotten his groove back and gave up hawking Watchtower at the same time.
The album begins with “Nonpareil of Favor,” which kicks in with a great piano line before collapsing into a wave of noise. Somewhere in between, Barnes (oops, Georgie) is able to run out for a quick fling. And that sums up the biggest conundrum of Skeletal Lamping; though there are 15 actual tracks here, each one is a suite with different parts. At times, the album can be brilliant, only to suddenly shift into something god awful. It’s rock for people on Ritalin. But doesn’t that sum up our society? Why create complete songs anymore when it’s so easy to skip to something else on our MP3 players?
There is something about Skeletal Lamping that makes me anxious and I don’t fully assign blame to its ADHD structure. I understand that Barnes is trying to be titillating and outrageous in his lyrics, but some of them are just jaw-dropping bad. “I want to make you come 200 times a day” and “I want you to be my pleasure puss / want to know what it’s like to be inside you” are just two examples of how bad it can get. What is most disturbing is just how catchy the melodies are surrounding these bad lines. On top of these sophomoric lyrics are the titles Barnes has always assigned his songs. “St. Exquisite’s Confessions” and “An Eluardian Instance” can either be considered to be clever or just trying too hard. But add a good dose of lyrics about cock-sucking and the entire enterprise of intelligence appears to be undermined.
That is not to say the album doesn’t have its moments. Barnes knows pop music and there are some great hooks. It is unfortunate the brilliance demonstrated on Fauna is so fleeting here. The patchwork, pastiche structure makes this album akin to a bad Baz Luhrmann film. There is a moment, however, early in the album, when the music slows down and Barnes wonders, “Why am I so damaged /Why am I so troubled / I don’t know how long I can hold on if it’s going to be like this forever.” Could this be Barnes, finally, behind the guise of Georgie Fruit? This profound moment lingers, promises a path or a connection, but quickly the tempo increases, the other instruments come in and Georgie is back, singing about ejaculation or something less consequential.