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June 11, 2004

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Forget about whether or not David Bazan is a Christian. The important thing you need to know about Achilles Heel is that it's not a concept album, and we should all offer thanks to God in heaven for that fact. Despite the strength and success of the band's previous full-length releases (2000's Winners Never Quit and 2002's Control), Bazan has wisely chosen to move away from the narrative song-cycle format he explored with those records. On Achilles Heel, he instead allows each song to stand on its own. Ironically, the result is his most thematically coherent album to date.

Historically much of Pedro the Lion's lyrical content has focused on the darker side of human nature, particularly the areas of religious hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Nothing has really changed here as far as that goes. In short, depravity abounds in these songs; I counted at least five shattered relationships, two deaths, two imminent suicides, one drunken bed-shitting and a pushy evangelist who ignores even the Holy Spirit's plea to "shut the fuck up" in "Foregone Conclusions". However, unlike Pedro's previous albums, Achilles Heel does not sink beneath the weight of its own moral statements. Bazan has always had a knack for letting his characters' own words implicate them, without the need for overt narrative didacticism, and it's nice to see him embrace that gift here. The stunning "I Do" contains what is likely the best couplet of the year: "Now that my blushing bride has done what she was born to do / it's time to bury dreams and raise a son to live vicariously through."

Musically, Achilles Heel sounds more like Control than it does any other previous Pedro the Lion album. The guitars are sometimes fuzzy and dense, and at other times sparse and melodic. Subtle synthesizer lines, smooth vocals and occasional acoustic guitars help to provide the understated texture we've come to expect from Pedro recordings. In "Keep Swinging", the band briefly ventures into Rubber Soul-era Beatles territory (with interesting results), but the majority of the arrangements are quite simple -- the perfect treatment for tight, well-constructed pop songs.

Write good songs. Record them simply. Don't preach. There's a concept that works.


Andrew Crissinger