[Reviewed by: Damiano Lanzi]
Defining Williams’ music genre is quite difficult. The sound of this album is mostly based on lo-fi keyboard tunes with an almost amateur feel. This aspect is here even more present than in the previous album, the excellent “Every Missing Duck is a Duck Missed”, a fact that is evident from the initial track, “The Official Picnic Song”, where Williams uses synthesized electric bass and guitar. The result may sound cheap, but the complex harmonies and song structures are similar to the ones heard in classic musicals and vaudeville; after a few listens it becomes clear that the ingenuity is only apparent, and these basic sounds are a means to the author’s own stylistic ideal.
The lyrics deal with everyday life (an unusual characteristic for an American songwriter) in a crude and daring way. Williams’ dark irony is devoted to nonsense (“Quackadoodledoo”, “Peanuts, Candy, a Dog and a Bird”), but he is also capable of writing really touching verses. It’s worth citing one of my favorites, from “A Patch of Fog in Purgatory”, that embodies many elements of his poetry (black comedy, childhood imagery, political history, European culture et cetera): “It’s the Sandy Claws of the Easter Fairy. It’s an ice cream cone that falls in a cemetery. It’s c’est La Vie and c’est La Guerre. Es lebe Deutschland and God bless Amer”. Williams enjoys citations, as in the astounding “The Emperor of Ice Cream”, from a poem by Wallace Stevens.
In the baroque “Watch your Scene, Jellybean” Williams somewhat reminds me of Kevin Ayers, another artist who delivered his message and geniality with ironic and playful tunes. “Heat’s Down the Seeking Missile” is also worth a careful listen, with its honky-tonk piano and its ever changing mood, a very imaginative song. When David sings “And these are my falls” a shower of synths makes you feel the power and vertigo of a waterfall (Father Louis Hennepin, pioneer of the Niagara Falls, is mentioned two lines before). Even the character impersonated by Williams is irresistible: cultured and goofy at the same time, ends up being charismatic and his intelligence is never a burden for the listener.
There are many precious guests in this album: the sparse atmosphere of “Closet” becomes tense and ambiguous thanks to Lloyd James’ deep voice and Andrew King puts his majestic touch on the medieval gem “Relapse”. Williams has created a musical and poetic language of his own and thanks to this he is now regarded as a cult icon. Once again, his music is courageous and unpredictable, because he’s one of a kind and it’s impossible to find terms of comparison for him.