Death By Poor Production Choices And A Lousy Concept
Seattle band The Green Pajamas have been going at it for about 30 years now, and to say they’re a bit prolific is a bit of an understatement. Their latest album, the fourth band or side-project related release during the past year, is also their 30th. Fronted by Jeff Kelly, the group is probably best known for a song called “Kim the Waitress” that was semi-famously covered during the ‘90s alterna-rock boom by a Chicago outfit called Material Issue. But being so prolific and around so long without piercing the mainstream’s bubble is bound to lead to some confusion, too: The usually dependable and reliable Allmusic.com lists this new album, Death By Misadventure, as coming out originally in 1984 (!). The mistake would be understandable as the Green Pajamas play a kind of updated version of paisley underground-inspired neo-psychedelia that is somewhat timeless in a way. The mistake is also understandable because, while there are some great songs to be found on Death By Misadventure, it does sound a bit like it came out nearly 30 years ago: The keyboards, in particular, sound so cheap that they sound like they are derived from the first wave of MIDI synthesizers, which is a polite way of saying that they sound dated. Coupled with the fact that half of the album is a sort of concept piece called “The Fall of the Queen Bee”, congealing into something of a suite of eight songs (and considering the rest is rather confusingly not), that deflates the balloon of sound the Green Pajamas bring to the table on this particular release. It’s as though the band actually grafted two extended plays together that were unrelated and called it an album. Yes, I’m aware that Rush did this on 2112, but, here, the feeling is a bit more disjointed, and a bit of a head-scratcher. What’s the point? Well, there might not be one, other than throwing a bunch of stuff together so you can keep up your rate of prolific productivity.
Still, there’s some great music to be found on Death by Misadventure, an album that musically knows no boundaries. You’ll get a rocking, groovy track nestled against something that could have come out of the carnival of Danny Elfman’s imagination. And a large part of it has a way of slithering into your brain and nestling quite comfortably there. At 16 songs and roughly 54 minutes in length, there’s a little something for everyone here: If there’s something that you don’t really enjoy, don’t worry; there’s something else coming down the pipe in a minute or two that will likely change gears entirely. However, for this listener, the band’s best material comes when it has its raygun set to stun by rocking out convincingly than when it moves into weird territory that sound more like circus music that is experimental for sake of the narrative.
Highlights include the vaguely Tom Petty-esque opener “You Can’t Look”, the countrified rocker “Carrie”, the jazz-rock fusion final track “The Spell”, and the fuzzy “Supervirgin”, which is the only place on the record where the keyboards are suitably squiggly and not embarrassing-sounding. However, a great deal of the record does feel cast-off, with songs – particularly in the early going – being short and punchy, as they’re part of a jigsaw puzzle that’s meant to be part of a larger whole. However, they don’t really go anywhere memorable, and the overarching “concept” piece doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If anything, the so-called concept is just an excuse to be loopy and psychedelic, with lines such as “This household is electric, I like your wig / Quadraphonic records, that’s something I could dig”. And, yes, lyrics aren’t exactly The Green Pajamas’ strong suit, at least not here.
Overall, Death By Misadventure feels like a minor work by a band trying hard to paint in as broad strokes as possible. If you don’t pay attention to the loose concept and tune out of the lyrics, the album isn’t all that half bad – at least, on the less campy tracks. The Green Pajamas do have a strength, and that’s when they stick to rock idioms and just kick out the jams. Maybe that’s just a personal preference of this listener – I’m a rock kind of guy – but the herky-jerky songs do feel a little creaky and silly, and it doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the material. Still, you have to give props to the band for trying, at least, to run fairly far with the ball into some offbeat and bizarre territory. I suppose that ultimately makes Death By Misadventure a record best for longtime fans, which would mostly be Seattleites who’ve grown up with Kelly and his cohorts. There’s some not bad stuff here, and the band does know how to pen a decent song every now and then. However, nothing on Death By Misadventure attains the high water mark of a “Kim the Waitress”, which will probably remain the group’s signature song, whether the Green Pajamas like it or not. Death By Misadventure is simply the sound of a band trying to figure out where to go next, years after scoring great heights with one memorable and classic song. That they’re still trying to figure things out is the slightly baffling part.