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The Married Monk - The Belgian Kick

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Artist: The Married Monk

Album: The Belgian Kick

Label: Ici D'ailleurs

Review date: Sep. 2, 2004

Manifestations of humor in music – particularly if they’re non-verbal – can often be a bit difficult to detect; what seems straight-faced and sincere coming from one artist may well register as blatantly ironic when executed by another. In the case of The Married Monk, half the fun of listening is trying to find out what exactly the joke is, if it indeed exists at all. On The Belgian Kick, the trio’s fourth LP, the line between the serious and the risible is constantly blurred. Nonetheless, a clear sense of musical integrity shines through: this is a band that, even if they’re just screwing around, is dead set on making it sound good.

It would probably be useless to characterize the Married Monk in terms of a genre; suffice it to say that they specialize in synth-driven arrangements that run the gamut from sophisticated new wave pop to the kind of half-baked tropical rhythms one might find preprogrammed on a cheap Casio. As is the case with their like-minded British counterparts, Super Furry Animals and the Beta Band, the Married Monk tie things together with an overarching sense of goofiness rather than by adhering to one particular style or tone. At their best, they combine their slightly skewed approach with superb songwriting and arrangements. Such is the case on their gorgeous cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Observatory Crest,” which manages to sound amply classy despite its liberal use of cheesy synth percussion. Several other tracks, adopting the same tongue-in-cheek lounge-singer approach (“Love Commander,” “Last Flight”) are equally successful; humor, while apparent in the lyrics and the idiosyncratic arrangements, takes a back seat to sincere pop craftsmanship.

Unfortunately, The Belgian Kick comes frontloaded with several tracks which are obnoxious enough to turn off the listener at the outset. The album’s first half is dominated by cuts in which seriously unfunny spoken word vocals drown out their marginally interesting backing tracks. The recurring trope on these tracks (“The Night Prince,” “The Belgian Kick”) is a first-person narration by a sleazy lounge-lizard type, who boasts of his snappy wardrobe and his skill on the dance floor. They’re neither clever nor funny, and any musical enjoyment one might derive from them is quashed by the annoying narration.

A few lapses in taste aside, The Belgian Kick is a perfectly satisfactory pop album; it’s weird enough to stand out from the pack, and uncommonly well-written, well-performed, and well-produced. Even if, at first glance, the novelty element seems to dominate, repeated listens reveal a collection of songs that cohere surprisingly well, given their stylistic disparity. The Married Monk’s off-kilter aesthetic might take some getting used to, but is certainly not without its unique rewards.

By Michael Cramer

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