Iíve spent nearly the last three months struggling
with writing this review, which perhaps correlates with the
issues Iíve had with the album in general. And finally, in a
fit of understanding, I managed to put it all together in my
head: I am on one hand impressed by Midnight in the Black
Nail Polish Factory and think it may be one of the best
things Iíve heard this year. Yet, on the other hand, I am vaguely
disappointed in it and suspect that with a few changes in the
mix and structure, it could have been even better.
Perhaps my disappointment can be understood better with a little
background. Compared with the brilliance of 2002ís Day
of the Ray the new album by Dallasís The Deathray
Davies would have to be utterly remarkable to make its mark
in the first place. Furthermore, the band themselves had stated
to me at one point that Midnight at the Black Nail Polish
Factory would be darker and "heavier" than their previous
efforts. I wasnít sure what to make of that statement. In the
past, The Davies have specialized in clever song-writing, catchy
riffs, and a slightly bouncy ethos which manages to convey an
overall happiness, despite the occasionally depressing topic.
In short, when I think of The Deathray Davies, I smile and start
to sing along in my head.
From the first, Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory
doesnít evoke the same reaction. And since it wasnít more of
the same, at first, I was disappointed by these obvious comparisons.
However, as the album progressed, I found myself entranced by
the way the musical themes built on each other, and by the way
the mix melded so that the band, in effect, created a tone poem
which manages to evoke a slightly claustrophobic mental space
and the thoughts such a place inspires.
Wow. That was a mouthful, huh? I guess what I mean is that
this new album doesnít sound that much like previous efforts.
The first song is an instrumental, and itís not until we get
to the fourth song, The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower,
that the band really hits its usual quick-beated, sing along
with the clever lyrics stride. Still, after that point, thereís
plenty of happy bounciness evident in some of the songs. For
instance, How to Win at Roulette may be the easiest singalong
since Superchunkís Itís Beautiful Here Too, while I
Regret the Day I Tried to Seal Danielís Ego has enough clever
wordplay and energy to sit firmly beside the more upbeat tunes
on Day of the Ray.
Likewise, the ubiquitous They Stuck Me in a Box in the Ground
(they are up to Part 5 now) shows up, although in this version,
the song seems to be a self-referential meditation on the previous
incarnations of the song and why Daviesí leader/singer John
Dufilho continues to write them.
Nevertheless, the slightly slower, different-sounding songs
such as Dominique also have their charm. In fact, the
best song on Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory
isnít one of the patented Deathray Davies tunes; instead itís
the somewhat mournful Low and Silent. This song begins
with a riff repeated from one of the earlier tracks and the
usual semi-confessional lyrics. However, at one point, the entire
band stops and a horn solo (which repeats the melody) begins.
In and of itself, this is very pretty. But then, the music begins
again and builds until Dufilho seemingly throws off the sad
lyrical attitude and instead launches into a repeated re-affirmation
of ďIím done with this isolation.Ē This change of pace and structure
within Low and Silent is a bit different that the usual
Davies fare, and they pull it off quite gracefully.
Furthermore, the linkages which occur between the individuals
songs are so carefully crafted that they couldnít help but be
intentional. For instance, the instrumental theme which leads
off is reprised throughout the album. And beyond this, there
are other smaller details which link the songs: the slow beat
of Gone Against the Tide is echoed in the pace of
and Silent, whereas the full-on wall of sound present in
I was That Masked Man comes back again in the echo of
I Regret the Day I Tried to Steal Danielís Ego. These
seemingly small touches come together to help suggest that Midnight
at the Black Nail Polish Factory should be considered
as a unified whole instead of merely as a group of songs which
are conveniently strung together.
Based on what I say above, you can see that I really like Midnight
at the Black Nail Polish Factory. But beyond that, I
have to confess, I want it to be brilliant -- I want it to be
an album that is not only wellĖconceived but also expertly executed.
And I canít go quite that far -- and this is where my critique
goes beyond mere nostalgia for their previous work. I think
that in the process of constructing this opus, The Deathray
Davies forgot how to construct a solid album. For instance,
there is a certain sameness to the earlier parts that could
lead the listener to think that this band doesnít know how to
build a song into something that grows and becomes something
greater at its end than at its beginning. In fact, a good friend
of mine who listened to the album didnít really begin to enjoy
it (if that) until Low and Silent. ďIf Iíd heard this
song first, I might think there was something to this band,Ē
he told me as we listened to the album, ďbut otherwise, they
do nothing for me.Ē
Similarly, the oddities of the albumís mix, while intriguing,
also at times work against it. By this I mean, the way that
certain accent notes and instruments pop out at the listener
in a way which is disconcerting and takes away from the overall
effect. Perhaps this too (like so much on the album) was intentional;
however, the lack of fluidity calls attention away from the
whole structure (which seems important) and focuses it on the
individual song, effect, or note.
In some ways, this album is a victim of its own conception.
If it were merely the newest offering of such a creative and
competent band, itíd likely get raves that wouldnít stop. However,
The Davies tried something different and hit a few rough patches
along the way. Nevertheless, the way the entire album builds
to its conclusion as well as the way The Deathray Davies chose
to go against audience expectation is an impressive thing indeed.
And, as such, itís definitely worth a listen, if only to hear
the potential evident within its structure.