The Crimea: Tragedy Rocks

[8 November 2005]

By David Bernard

According to The Crimea, Tragedy Rocks, but on their latest CD, it’s often black comedy instead of tragedy, and it pops and swirls and gets stuck in your head just as often as it rocks. These songs go down easy, but in a good way. Instead of being simple pop songs without emotional or creative backing, the songs are simple on the surface and immediately accessible, but the second and third listens reveal the emotional weight behind the excellent melodies and lyrics.

Lead singer Davey Macmanus’ voice produces a husky, throaty type of sound that comes out as a half-scream/half-sing. At times it’s reminiscent of Conor Oberst and Joe Strummer. Macmanus can certainly carry a tune, but you know in the back of your mind that he’d be a kick-ass yeller if the song called for it. His lyrics suit his voice because they often blur the line between upbeat and macabre, between trippy and sane. One song mixes references to pumpkins, Tarzan, and Fred Flintstone. And that’s all in one chorus. One of the happiest songs on the album features one of the darkest refrains: “If you wanna see my happy side / Better tell me that my girl just died.” These are conflicted, complicated songs packaged in a dangerously easy-to-swallow candy coating.

Any CD that opens with a song entitled “Intro” that actually is an intro, and an impressive little piece of classical piano music at that, is destined to be interesting. A worse band would have named it something pompous or crammed it full of strings or horns or kazoos or something else to prove the great irony of having an intro titled “Intro”. Not so with The Crimea. This is part of their charm, but most of it lies in their ability to shift textures and sounds from song to song.

“White Russian Galaxy” goes for the classic rock vibe. Count the instruments. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, especially if you’re wearing headphones. The following song, “Lottery Winners on Acid”, which was lauded by John Peel, switches the mood to Reggae style drums, breezy acoustic guitars, jubilant group-sung backing vocals, high-pitched xylophone, slide guitar, and nearly perfect lyrics: “If she gets a disease, I want a disease.” These opening tracks, along with “Baby Boom”, are pristine songs, perfect examples of what rock bands should be doing these days but are too afraid to do because it seems too easy. Guess what? Writing melodies this good is never clichéd. Neither are clever lyrics: “I don’t do cryptic clues / I guess you just weren’t interested in getting drunk and trying to start a baby boom.” The band are able to convey these excellently written songs with great production work that highlights the songs’ strengths with just enough bells and whistles so that it’s intriguing but not overwhelming or busy.

The hooks are everywhere. Macmanus attributes this to his writing method, which involves vocalizing each instrument first. Note to everyone: it works; do it now! A brief anti-war statement appears with the catchy chorus of “Bad Vibrations”: “With all these germs about / Feel the hurt, feel the pain / Feel the bad vibrations”. There’s even a goth/metal feel on “Opposite Ends”, though it’s a little over-the-top.

So where are the criticisms? Well, in one of the great reversals of history, the UK version might be a little stronger than the American version. The Beatles trimmed releases for the States, but The Crimea have done the opposite, bloating their American version. Maybe it’s a case Macmanus favoring his Irish brethren or Warner Bros. playing in to America’s obsession with quantity over quality. “The Great Unknown” is one of these bonus songs. It’s good, but it’s not on the same level as many of the masterpieces here. It, along with another bonus, “Here Comes the Suffering”, goes for an aesthetic that borrows from classic Western films and Pixies surfer riffs. “Howling at the Moon” completes the U.S.-only tracks with another weak addition.

The 10-track UK CD is a tight, excellent work, while the American version is obese with four songs clearly destined for the land of B-sides and soundtrack compilations. The bottom line is that The Crimea are talented. Really talented. So buy whichever version you want and enjoy the amazing songs. A little bonus never hurt anyone.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/crimea-tragedy/