May 14, 2004
PEDRO THE LION [I]ACHILLES HEEL[/I] REVIEW
You might imagine the general mood at the Bazan household is somewhat dispirited. Throughout the Pedro the Lion catalogue we find David Bazan singing about the ugliest aspects of our society and the worst by-products of human relations. It's not a pretty picture, this one that Mr. Bazan paints. And Achilles’ Heel is no different. In this album each song is a story of heartbreak, frustration, disappointment and malcontent. Some unpleasant topics explored in Achilles’ Heel are a gambling husband, becoming handicapped, a cheating girlfriend, a marriage for all the wrong reasons, and a very bad shitting-your-bed hangover. Sobriety doesn’t even begin to explain the affect Bazan and his music can have on you.
This, as you may know, is nothing new with Pedro albums. In Control, a very good line that seems to sum up Bazan's approach is “â€¦most everything turns to shit / rejoice / rejoice / rejoice." It’s not a sardonic witticism; it is more an expression of tired somberness and the effect of a defeated outlook. Yet it would be a mistake to think that this is Bazan's outlook and the first-person characters in his songs are actually him. The stories are set to contrast toâ€¦well, this is never explicitly defined, but we may infer that they contrast to Bazan's own life. Bazan paints this awful picture of a world gone wrong from the vantage point of an outsider looking in. The reason why this realization can be deduced from Achilles’ Heel is because if not for the tone of the lyrics this would be a joyful album. This time around, Bazan can't hide the encapsulation of pure elation. The lyrics are as bitter and stark as ever but the music is absolutely lush, if not hopeful.
Where previous albums' musical and lyrical contribute to the same motif, Achilles’ Heel has this obvious divergent disconnect between the two. Especially displayed in Control, the lethargic, deliberate momentum coupled with Bazan's lines absolutely crushes the listener. In Achilles’ Heel, some of the songs would be utterly blissful if not for Bazan's prose. The contrast creates an almost morbid appeal. The stark portrayal of pure realism with upbeat tempos and intonations don’t translate into the bittersweet. It is deceivingly sweet. Bazan took a more straightforward approach to this album in an attempt to shrug off some of the heaviness of the last couple albums. And for the most part, this is quite a bit lighter relative to the other albums. The arrangements on Achilles’ Heel may sound awkward and unconventional at first but this will only accentuate the staying power of these songs. Some songs favor lucidity while others are a bit garbled but the end result is consistently terrific.
It is an amazing album if not just because for all its oddities and peculiar nuances it is completely fucking enjoyable. How in the hell can a song about paralysis make you happy? How can a song about a rotten marriage make you want to shake your head in delight? Yet, this album does it over and over rousing your emotions from the unlikeliest of places. It is Pedro the Lion at the apex of songwriting and delivery. Rejoice. Rejoice. Rejoice.
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