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The Black Heart Procession - Amore Del Tropico

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Artist: The Black Heart Procession

Album: Amore Del Tropico

Label: Touch and Go

Review date: Oct. 20, 2002

Depression Goes To Town

The first three Black Heart full-lengths are about as “accessible” as Pontormo’s frescoes at San Lorenzo. They’re as grim, cold, distorted and disproportionate as an isolated evening of suicidal tears. They celebrate and nurture the least romantic sort of desperation. Things of endearing, enduring beauty, but not a market force in the making. Like the no-nudity clause in Neve Campbell’s contract, the Procession’s defiant gloominess always limited its appeal.

Amore Del Tropico, then, is quite a curiosity: It’s the band’s meet ‘n’ greet, it’s “experimental” rummage through genres from mariachi balladry (“Tropics Of Love”) to C&W lounge (“Broken World”) back through the band’s gloomy, squalid old neighborhood (“The Invitation”) and on to jaunty pop, worthy of the most demure ‘60s girl group (“Did You Wonder”). “A Sign On The Road” sounds like a Goth’s pastiche of ‘60s R&B with an overzealous junior high band percussionist in the back. “Sympathy Crime” sounds like particularly sinister ELO.

This conspicuous train-hopping could hardly have come from a less likely band. Like that dusty old motherfucking White Album, Amore Del Tropico is often more conceptually interesting than practically solid. It’s the sort of thing that’ll be a surprise and a relief for anyone who feels compelled to listen to depressing Chicago indie rock (he doesn’t get out much since he got a girlfriend, and his old buddy offered to buy his beer for the night if he made it to the club), but would rather be trying out the new cable package.

The constant is Paulo Zappoli’s beaten, aching, hollow moan of a voice, which lends the most odd detours here a pained consistency. And the detours ain’t that odd. If anything, these exceptions are little more than the proof of Black Heart’s deeply entrenched passive-aggressive conservatism. With the earlier shit, you could put on the record and feel sorry for yourself from start to finish. Now, the fact that you have to pause and wonder what that is on “The Visitor” (theremin? The Chronic?) reaffirms the band’s gloominess by momentarily dangling a glimpse of something else over the distant horizon. Could BHP become a de-glossed, ramshackle His Name Is Alive, with ten fingers in ten pies and no fingerprints? Nah. If the band wrote a can-can, it’d still have lyrics like “You blister in the sun / You bleed for everyone” sung in rock’s most defeated moan. And who really gives a fuck if you can hear a wristwatch ticking?

No hope, no fear.

By Emerson Dameron

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