Pedro the Lion is a musical identity created to vent the creative talents of David Bazan, who has teamed up with various musicians during Pedro’s existence to create a unique persona for the band, and to express an often-controversial point of view. Pedro’s music reflects Bazan’s unashamed Christianity, but allows him to question almost everything that he believes. Listening to a Pedro the Lion record is like looking through a window into the complex inner workings of Bazan’s mind – each song has a purpose and strong sense of direction aimed at achieving a deeper understanding of a particular topic. Indeed Pedro’s last two albums were essentially concept albums – Control, released on Jade Tree Records in 2002, was a thematic exploration of a man’s struggle with life.
Achilles Heel, the new album from Pedro the Lion, offers more varied content while maintaining a sense of unity. Bands With Managers opens the album in a slow drone, with Bazan’s voice calling out above the haunting guitar progression. Forgone Conclusions steps up the tempo immediately, while maintaining a laid back feel and the strong melody evident in both Bazan’s guitar playing and vocals throughout the album. The Fleecing continues with an upbeat pulse, with the lyrics clearly expressing Bazan’s determination to maintain an open and questioning mind – "I could buy you a drink/ I could tell you all about it/ I could tell you why I doubt it and why I still believe".
Discretion pulls back the tempo of the album for a while, with the musical change reflecting a shift to darker lyrical content, as Bazan tells a haunting tale of a farmer sleeping soundly while the man who has killed his son is right outside considering his next move. The flowing keyboard progression in Arizona fades gradually into the slightly funky opening of Keep Swinging, which addresses the consequences of a big night out in Bazan’s own laconic, understated style. The same understated vocal style is carried through in Transcontinental as Bazan relates of the story of a man caught under a train struggling with thoughts of tales of bravery as he lies there dying.
I Do is laden with musical and vocal hooks, with an intricate guitar melody underlying the simple yet captivating repetition of "I Do" in the chorus. A Simple Plan delves into the life of a man struggling to come to terms with the realisation of a dream that he has strived for all his life. Living in the classless society created under communism, he finds that he has lost his purpose to live – "to think of my family no longer compels me/ with all things in common they’ll manage without me". Start Without Me packs a bit more punch musically, building up to a dynamic peak before fading out and sliding effortlessly into The Poison, which is a slow, listless track bringing the album to a final conclusion with one last account of the personal struggle that takes place in millions of lives each day.
Achilles Heel is a strong musical document, from start to finish offering both musical and topical stimulation. While at many times a rather dark affair, the album leaves the listener with a distinct feeling of hope to carry out into the world, and maintains the indie rock style that fans of Pedro the Lion have come to expect. Overall, Achilles Heel is Pedro’s finest achievement to date.