When it came out over two years ago, Drugstore’s third album, Songs For the Jet Set, was a welcome return from a band whose darkly elegant albums just don’t come out often enough. They’re one of those bands where you hear a track by them, fall in love with it for a bit, and wind up forgetting about them for a year or two, and when a new album does surface, it takes you by surprise. Like back in 1998, when Drugstore’s White Magic For Lovers garnered a heavy helping of attention with its stunning, protest song-meets-spaghetti Western theme “El Presidente”, thanks to singer Isabel Monteiro’s duet with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. After a while, the hype died down, and casual listeners forgot about Drugstore, until their fine 2001 album was released. Well, unless you’re a devoted fan of the band, chances are you haven’t been thinking about the band too much these days, and thanks to The First Time Records, we’ve been given yet another wake-up call from this great little band. No, it’s not quite the official follow-up; instead, Songs For the Jet Set has been repackaged, this time around coming with a companion CD called Collector Number One, a compilation consisting of various b-sides, studio outtakes, demo recordings, and a couple of live tracks.
Not that you should need any other excuse to listen to Songs For the Jet Set. Drugstore’s sound, which greatly resembles that of such bands as Mazzy Star and Bettie Serveert, revolves around the entrancing vocal skills of Monteiro. Coming across as a Brazilian version of Cerys Matthews, Monteiro’s smoky voice is perfectly suited to the band’s sleepy, nocturnal sound. A more stripped-down record than White Magic For Lovers, Songs For the Jet Set has a more intimate, immediate feel, perfectly epitomized on “Baby Don’t Hurt Yourself”, as Monteiro, along with Lambchop’s Paul J. Niehaus playing some mournful pedal steel accents, croons like a lady whispering in her lover’s ear. The compassionate “Song For the Lonely” (“Keep them in your minds”) has that Euro-country sound (think alt-country with a woman singing in accented English) that bands like A CAMP and Chitlin’ Fooks have done in recent years, while “I Wanna Love You Like a Man” utilizes tango rhythms as Monteiro sings about her desire to lead once in a while. “The Party is Over” is gorgeous, as guitarist Daron Robinson sings verses that sound like stripped down recreations of The Velvet Underground’s “Stephanie Says”, with Monteiro singing lead on the spine-tingling, crescendoing choruses. “Hate” boasts a Pulp-like melody, while the pair of songs “Little Girl” and “Wayward Daughter” sing of both childlike innocence and heart-wrenching experience, a recurring theme on the album.
Collector Number One, a compilation that was originally sold to fans at the band’s shows, is more of a mixed bag. The demo version of White Magic‘s “Say Hello” is a loose, acoustic version of Monteiro’s ode to the down-and-out, with the singer showing a dry sense of humor in the lyrics (“To all the foreign strangers who are always in a fight/To all my clumsy lovers who can never get it right”), and “Tourniquet” is a restrained cover of UK band Headswim’s minor 1997 hit that completely destroys the maudlin original version, plaintive piano and strings replacing the loud guitars. Meanwhile, “Starcrossed”, though a bit rough-sounding, wouldn’t sound out of place on Songs For the Jet Set, and “What Every Girl Should Know” is a decent ballad. Two songs from Drugstore’s eponymous debut, “Gravity” and “Devil” are included, but the quality of the recording keeps the tracks from matching the feel on the album versions. “When the Bottle is Dry” is a fine little drinking ballad (“Yeah I can fall on the ground and lose track of my senses/But I’ll only lose my head when the bottle is dry”), while the raw version of “Acceleration” (from the first album) seems to suit the song perfectly. Most notable among all the tracks on this CD is the original demo of “El Presidente”, and while it sounds good (Monteiro’s voice always sounds great), it’s missing the mini epic quality that the lavish production on the album version provided.
It’s great to see Songs For the Jet Set get the re-release treatment; it’s too good an album to go unnoticed, and the added bonus of Collector Number One is a nice treat for longtime fans, as well as an interesting listen for newcomers. Newbies might not revisit the compilation as often, but if it helps turn them on to this criminally underrated band, then why not? Let’s just hope it’s not a long wait until the next Drugstore album.