[5 February 2006]
Since their formation in 1989, Kurt Heasley has taken the Lilys for quite a ride. With each album comes a somewhat different but appealing album while the frontman oils what appears to be a continuous revolving door of musicians and supporting cast. Perhaps the best complement the group could be paid is that they, much like the Rolling Stones did in their early days, have basically taken a style of music from across the pond and made it their own. The group’s previous album was the closest thing to Britrock from a Yankee band I heard in a long time, and this new album on reinforces that notion. And while it clocks in at under 40 minutes, the listening party for you will be about 55 to 60 minutes after finally realizing you’ve replayed the opening “Black Carpet Magic”.
“Black Carpet Magic” has nothing in common with “Black Magic Woman” or “Magic Carpet Ride”, but it is a gorgeous rock tune that seems to blend the best of the Stereophonics’ “Dakota” and something Grandaddy might have had up their sleeves before announcing they were breaking up. Heasley sets up the song with an airtight 4/4 beat, a subtle guitar riff and a dominant bass line. From there the whole thing explodes into a lovely rainbow of sound a little over a minute in. What a gorgeous ensuing two minutes result, with some feedback and squeals flying over the rhythm section. Near the homestretch, it hits another gear and you realize that it will be a magical ride indeed.
On his homefront, things weren’t so magical for Heasley. His better half disappeared following a psychotic episode. A second disappearance resulted in Heasley looking after his three children while she returned to her family in Texas. As a result, it altered Heasley’s normal album-making methods, using his spare time and working at home primarily. The overall result is a record that wastes no time and seems to have a certain sense of intensity not found on Precollection, as great as that previous album was. “With Candy” opens with some great ear candy of its own—a heady, Middle Eastern tinge and Harrison-like riff that makes one briefly think of lava lamps before a synthesizer takes you up the mid-‘80s. And then the Lilys throw out one that is an acquired taste but hopefully you get it. “A Diana’s Diana” is a thick, danceable, disco-era track which brings to mind Manic Street Preachers performing “Miss Europa Disco Dancer”. It’s not the greatest but the Lilys pull it off mainly because it is such a curveball.
The record is consistently inconsistent in terms of what one might anticipate, with “Knocked on the Fortune Teller’s Door” resembling a cross between Pink Floyd and Jesus and Mary Chain. While it might be better later on in the sequence or running order, the number has its desired effect and steadily grows on you as Heasley sings like he’s been possessed by Ray Davies. The first quasi-clunker has to be “Where the Night Goes”, which starts off promising enough, but lacks the intensity or verve needed to make it memorable. Good song, but compared to the others here, it comes off as filler. It’s instantly forgettable thanks to the melody and structure of “The Night Sun Over San Juan”, a summer-sounding pop track that resembles Guided By Voices or Teenage Fanclub as Heasley sings about trying to change the ocean between sweet hooks. And he tends to revisit this domain with “Still in All the Glitter”, which is more psychedelic pop than glitter rock a la that duke who was thin and white. The guitars rise slowly and there’s an ambient tone as it goes along, but never breaks out into something grandiose.
The title track is another highlight despite whittling away some time getting things off the ground, sort of like the way The Cure build up a song by playing the instrumental portion for nearly three minutes. It ebbs and flows but is nonetheless worthy of your attention, dear readers. “Scott Free” rounds things out as the Lilys opt for an acoustic-oriented Beatle-like pop number with very lovely and immediately infectious harmonies. Add a backbeat and the track takes on a totally different “All You Need Is Love” vibe before cutting things short. There are too many things right about this album to make you believe it’s imaginary. Even Mao’s followers seem to be into it, just look at the album cover….