Strange without being technically strange, The Czars have created an album that defies categorization through sheer generic quality.
I'm pretty sure that the Czars' new album Goodbye is one of the strangest I've ever heard, and it's not even that weird. It's just that the evocations of other groups and artists which their music presents is strange. It's all quite tasteful, and all very well-produced, and it's probably the kind of thing that would get played in your favorite national bookstore chain, but then there are curveballs in the mix here that suddenly jump out and take one by surprise. Or at least that's what happened to me when listening to this.
Long story short: The Czars formed in Denver, Colorado with singer John Grant at the core of the group. Grant sends a self-made disc to former Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde, who decided he wanted to record the group. The Czars cut two albums, Before�But Longer in 2001 and The Ugly People Vs. The Beautiful People, also in 2001 on Raymonde's Bella Union label. Now Goodbye has followed, and apparently has only received a release in the UK for now. Poking through the band's website revealed that the Czars apparently signed a lot of their rights away at some point and have not made much profit over the course of their career. Same old story, different band.
But anyway, back to the music. The first song, "Goodbye", sounds all very quaint at first, but a little warped, possibly Eagles-meet-Sade in a way. Countryish with underlying jazzy texture really isn't so oddball, as the two formats in this case seem to go pretty well together. But it's not enough to really grab the ears; that is, until the chorus kicks in, and the song suddenly sounds like Obscure by Clouds-era Pink Floyd mixed with Eye in the Sky Alan Parsons Project. How the hell did that happen? It's too bad, then, that the choruses are the best part of the song, and the rest is just kind of faceless.
Then there's "Paint the Moon", which sounds like what I think Marty Robbins would be turning out if he were still around and some hotshot producer decided to make him cool for the kids, kind of like Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash...only less edgy. It kind of lopes like an old Marty Robbins tune, as visions of cattle and dusty trails filled my head. Certainly more Marty Robbins and not so much Eddy Arnold. Weird.
And what about "My Love", which again does the Alan Parsons thing but mixes it up with a pace that recalls Spiritualized at their most druggy? But then it also kind of has an early '70s Fleetwood Mac lilt to it. It's quite a head scratcher, indeed. But then "Little Pink House" goes completely jazzy and sounds like an old torch song from the '40s being lit up in some old smoky cocktail club. I don't know. You tell me what this is all about.
Really, because at the end of it all, I don't know whether or not this album is brilliant or just brilliant in places. A bit of it almost makes me want to go to sleep; the pacing is so slow over most of it and the singing lethargic. But then those little surprises get pulled out time and again and make it sort of strangely addictive. If nothing else, Goodbye certainly gets my vote for weirdest release of the year, if only because at its heart, it really isn't that weird at all. It would almost seem generic, were it not so carefully twisted. Ah well, all I can suggest is that you give it a listen and figure it out for yourselves. If you come up with any answers, do let me know.