Forgetting Creed for a moment (or forever), most Christian musicians have a difficult time crossing over to mainstream audiences. Perhaps that’s why Pedro the Lion’s latest release, "Achilles’ Heel" on Jade Tree Records, departs from the band’s previous, closer to God (though definitely not in the Nine Inch Nails fashion) efforts.
David Bazan, the one-man brain behind Pedro the Lion, says in the press release that the sudden absence of religious themes is because he wanted to "un-concept things a bit." He wasn’t kidding. But maybe concept is a good thing.
It turns out that "un-concepting" means writing songs about the bleak, depressing world of characters constantly in conflict with society. Pedro the Lion epitomizes the idea that indie-emo rockers are just whiny, sad men. But the even sadder thing is that this is probably the happiest Bazan has been when compared to his previous releases.
The simplistic music succumbs to the lyrics – which are often drawn-out and subtly belted out. But the lyrics, as impressively heartfelt as they are, search for a true cohesiveness. The songs jump from one issue to another like fleas that can’t decide which animal to bite first.
"Bands with Managers," the opening track, pokes fun at, obviously, "bands with managers" and "bands with messy hair and smooth white faces." It wouldn’t be surprising to find "Arizona," a song that personifies relationships with states like New Mexico and California, on the next season of "The O.C."
Scattered among the music-industry observations, relationship troubles and one God reference ("Foregone Conclusions") lies some patriarchy, the album’s only apparent theme. "I Do" describes a man who regretfully marries his "blushing bride" after she performs her functional birth-bearing duties. This patriarchy carries over to "A Simple Plan," about a man struggling to bring money home to support his wife and kids. Whether the "sexist subtext" is meant to be sarcastic is unclear, but, judging from Bazan’s previous cynical lyrics, let’s be optimistic and hope it’s a criticism of society rather than blaming it all on Eve.
Bazan is a master at storytelling, as proven with "Control" and "Winners Never Quit," two previous releases. But where those albums are novels, "Achilles’ Heel" is more like a collection of short stories – which can peak a small interest alone, but do almost nothing as a whole. Or perhaps, as Bazan sings in "Start Without Me," "like everything I do, it’s misunderstood."
Although the album came as a disappointment, Pedro the Lion was one of my favorite live sets from SXSW two years ago. Hopefully their stop in Austin will prove the same.