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Robert Callender - Le Musee de L'Impressionnisme

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Artist: Robert Callender

Album: Le Musee de L'Impressionnisme

Label: Fallout

Review date: Aug. 14, 2006

Bobby Callender surfaced as an unthreatening pop product. As the ‘60s progressed and mutated, he barreled into psychedelic eccentricity. His hyper-literate lyrics must’ve been a struggle to fit into his wide range of musical idioms, but they always managed to work, albeit in a unique, initially unsettling fashion. He’s a bit like Scott Walker. A lot, actually. Or was, at least. After dropping the bizarre, polarizing, and prescient Le Musee De L’Impressionnisme in Holland (in a doomed limited edition), Callender pretty much vanished.

Hearing the album now, it’s easy to believe in its “missing link” status. It boasts snatches of symphonic soul, slick funk grooves, busy Latin funk (“Les Impressionistes”), sly pop balladry (“Claude Monet”), bastardized church music (“Nadars (The Baptism of Impressionism)”)… right up into disco proper (“Pierre Auguste Renoir”), which was the logical sum of its influences, but still not particularly obvious on the horizons of Callender’s dying psychedelic age.

The sound here is muddy as a bootleg. It seems as though Fallout found another weird nugget, forewent the niceties and dropped the original recording on fresh plastic. This re-issue doesn’t quite bring the music into the present. (Come on, guys – you have to compete with crate-digging MP3 bloggers now, who can’t remaster anything but will gladly outweird you gratis.) But it’s nice to have it around in any form.

In defiance of whatever “pop genius” he may have possessed, Callender chose to make his most personal statement double as a monument to the impressionist painters, which was not what the public was clamoring for. As they drift between French and English, the lyrics pay book-report tribute to “greatness of ideas and talent” and “the gift of life that only few possess,” fleshed out with humanizing personal details on Van Gogh, Renoir and the crew. The lyrics rarely rhyme and exhibit a worship of profundity while making no serious attempt at actual profundity (although “Let the rivers flow / By turning them into wine” is a uniquely Callenderian addition to the canon of party slogans).

While bereft of open cynicism and deep in musical insight and foresight, this stuff bears more than a few outward similarities to American Song-Poem Anthology. Proceed with caution, or with a high tolerance for irony. (I've heard pot can help with that.)

By Emerson Dameron

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