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Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping

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Artist: Of Montreal

Album: Skeletal Lamping

Label: Polyvinyl

Review date: Oct. 3, 2008

Of Montreal have always been a frustratingly inconsistent band, all the way back to their first album. While Cherry Peel was full of both musically and emotionally interesting songs, subsequent albums saw Barnes and Co. get lost in their cute, concocted world … that is until the practically perfect Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies in 2001. This inconsistency hasn’t abated much since their transformation from twee vaudevillians into glam pop lunatics, and is especially apparent on their latest, Skeletal Lamping. To be frank, Of Montreal live and die by their hooks, and when they’re missing, their songs can get terribly tedious.

Lamping is written from the point of view of an aspect of Barnes’ personality named Georgie Fruit, a persona which freed him to explore certain darker themes that Barnes couldn’t address as himself. In a blog post made in August last year, Barnes had this to say: “I am fascinated by [Jean Genet’s] writings. His portrayal of the criminal and the profane is wonderful. The thing is, Genet was a criminal before discovering his calling as a writer and, if he would have never written anything down, or at least never have gotten published, he probably would have remained a criminal until his death and would have been forgotten forever….i [sic] think more pop songwriters should write about the regrettable aspects of the human mind.” The problem is that, as Barnes notes, Genet actually was a criminal; he spent much of his life as a thief and a prostitute and when he writes about the “regrettable aspects of the human mind” he does so from an intimate place. However, when Barnes writes about these topics he comes off like many of the surrealists who were rich kids playing around on their parents’ coin. Fruit is merely a pale shade of Genet filtered through suburban sexual role playing. It’s like the scene in A History of Violence where Maria Bello comes out in the cheerleader outfit.

Now, this isn’t to produce an argument that artists must have authentically lived through their subject matter. In the hands of a particularly creative and skilled person, anything can be discussed without the writer having really lived through it. Barnes is an incredibly skilled and creative musician, but when he tackles the dark side of humanity, it just turns into a boring exploration of bourgeois sexuality.

And really, sexuality is one of the most boring subjects to tackle in a three-to-five-minute pop song. 1) Because it’s an extremely complex topic and very few people can do it justice within the framework of lyric writing, and 2) it’s such an overdone topic…75 percent of music is about fucking, and one of the reasons I love Of Montreal is that Barnes spends most of his time hip deep in surrealism and existentialism rather than writing another love song, and even when he does write a love song, it’s tinged with references to Bataille or Aragon. While I understand that sexuality was a very important part of surrealism, it’s actually rather banal, especially in the wake of the deep, existential themes of Hissing Fauna and the Icons Abstract Thee EP, which both chronicled Barnes’ dissolving marriage and his attempts to destroy and recreate his own selfhood.

Lamping, however, barely scratches the surface:

    “I want to make you come 200 times a day”
    “I took her standing in the kitchen, ass against the sink”
    “I live to make you call my name”
    “I want you to be my pleasure puss. I want to know what its like to be inside you.”
    “Can’t help it if it’s true: don’t wanna be your man, just want to play with you”

This ultimately feels less like an exploration of the dark side of humanity than it does pandering to the new audience that discovered Of Montreal when they became dancier.

This isn’t to begrudge them their fame. Their shift was never a cynical change but rather a natural outgrowth of Barnes’ maturation, and I’ve enjoyed very much their albums since Satanic Panic. Still, if Barnes really wants to get dark, he might as well borrow from Maldoror or genuinely embrace Genet instead of cribbing from him at a safe distance. As it stands, Lamping has some catchy songs and some interesting lyrics, but feels too inconsequential, too easily sloughed off.

By Andrew Beckerman

Other Reviews of Of Montreal

The Sunlandic Twins

Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

False Priest

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View all articles by Andrew Beckerman

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