Psychedelic pop band The Green Pajamas, who hail from Seattle, began in 1984, releasing tapes on small labels throughout the decade to very little press. After taking off most of the 1990s, they came back again with a suitably buzzed-about indie gem, Strung Behind the Sun. This was 1997, a pretty harsh year for the rock world (boy bands and Hanson ruled the charts), and these career musicians, led by singer/songwriter Jeff Kelly, really deserved to make it big in the ‘80s. The Green Pajamas belong among other ‘60s-doting ‘80s bands, such as R.E.M. and U2, the band oft-channeled in their new release, 21st Century Séance.
Though 21st Century Séance is a bit more haunting and jagged than anything Bono and co. have released, there seems to me a striking similarity between lead singer Jeff Kelly’s mopey tenor and the B-man’s trademark wail. Perhaps The Green Pajamas are a Choose Your Own Adventure-ending to a mega-pop band’s maturity: this album is the sort that U2 could be releasing, in the obscurity that they might have feared before The Joshua Tree secured them a place in rock history. But The Green Pajamas don’t screw around; they are, and seemingly always have been, a self-reliant band.
The record opens lushly with two gems: “The Secret of Bethany’s Mouth”, and the instantly catchy anthem “Jenny V”. This is the high point; the rest of the album finds the band wavering back and forth between creeping-stalker lullabies and chilled out Bono sound-a-likes such as “This Haunted Hill” and “Gazelle”. Kelly and his band make the type of sweeping pop music that cannot be easily categorized, and this contributes directly to its lack of hipness. The album’s moodier pop songs point to other no-frills 1980s/‘90s acts like Luna and The Go-Betweens, but lack the hooks that pull the listener in.
Some songs don’t really cut it (The Laura Weller-performed “True Lover” contains cringe-inducing Alice In Chains harmonies), and 21st Century Séance has its share of annoying literary references. On tracks like “Chip Chop”, they really get down and psychedelic, and it’s only then that they seem truly focused.
The Green Pajamas are a band with a lot of potential in that their sound is accessible. They would fit in very well on adult-rock stations alongside their 1980s predecessors, but it seems like nowadays there isn’t too much room on the airwaves for new mature pop bands with literary leanings. Unless, that is, they do something great. There is nothing unforgettable here, and though plenty haunting, 21st Century Séance doesn’t quite have the weight of other similarly simple albums. The Green Pajamas are just a typical group of hardworking, smart musicians doing what they want without fanfare. And there’s nothing wrong with that.