Pedro the Lion, David Bazan’s project has gradually turned into a pride of like-minded cats. Over the course of several years and two albums, T.W. Walsh, James McAlister and Ester Drang have joined ranks with Bazan and turned into a pretty killer musical outfit. Their newest, Achilles’ Heel is ironically titled, because, although I think it ranks among the best records of the year, to their die-hard followers there is a certain amount of dissent. Their purist fans are disappointed because Bazan’s conceptual and narrative approach to his first two albums had lead them to expect that Achilles’ was going to be the third part of a trilogy. It’s gotten rather ugly, which is just silly to me, because, although I’ve always been a fan of Bazan’s story-telling lyrical prowess, it’s the musical half of the equation that’s always been my reason for liking these guys.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pedro the Lion, they play an addictive blend of electric folk, with a touch of poppy alt-country. In general terms you’d classify them somewhere between the New Amsterdams and The Thrills, but they offer clever Beach Boys and Beatlesque nuances that smack of the lovely, melodic, melancholy sound of the recently disbanded Northern Cal faves The Mother Hips. And I think it’s fair to compare Bazan’s clean but slightly gruff vocals with Evan Dando.
The most comical irony to me is that I’ve even read negative critical reviews from writers who too were expecting this to be Bazaan’s third concept album. It’s hilarious to me to read these because there was a day (Genesis) when bands were tarred (Yes) and feathered (King Crimson) by critics for such pretensions. Regardless what angle this record descends upon those with preset expectations, I think it could be a big hit for them. Despite the stand-alone nature of these songs, as far as I’m concerned they’re all pretty damned good. They’re nothing if not shamelessly hooky and melodic and there should be no reason why they wouldn’t find fertile soil in the hearts of fans as far flung as Gram Parsons and Tom Petty to Ryan Adams and Deathcab for Cutie.
I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m not sympathetic to the disappointment of their old fans – it’s a noticeable change, to be sure. And though I agree there are a few songs where the lyrics are downright bad, I’m not so sure that Bazan isn’t sick of living up to his own standard, because a few of the most noticeably strange lyrics sound more like self-parody than mediocrity. I say we just let the Lion sleep tonight and perhaps we’ll get our wimmoway next time. Plenty of nights remain to hear the stories of David.
I look at Achilles’ Heel as a nice batch of odds and ends and out-takes – and not the tiny chink in the armor capable of felling the mighty Warrior King.