by Charissa Che
Issue date: 10/29/08
Section: Arts & Entertainment
Similar to a flutist’s way of charming a snake out of its basket, the Legendary Pink Dots ace the test when it comes to stirring the most unsettling and unexpected sentiments previously veiled within your subconscious. Their music, especially their most recent release, Plutonium Blonde, is the stuff that drives you to listen as if hypnotized to every note until the album’s end, at which point you may find yourself staring at a blank wall for a few seconds, questioning the side effects of what was just unleashed.
Formed in the 80s, the London-based Legendary Pink Dots consist, at the forefront, of vocalist and keyboardist Edward Ka-Spel and synthesist Phil Knight, otherwise known as the Silverman. Over the years, the other members of the band have altered – but, nevertheless, with over 40 records under their belt spanning two decades, this enigmatic rock group has shepherded generations of loyal goth audiences.
Appropriately so, this album recalls the Beatles later, LSD-induced efforts, only Ka-Spel and company have added a touch of edginess and melancholia that makes their music so breathtakingly jarring that to compare it with other artists – both iconic and contemporary – wouldn’t do it justice. These British lads have created something that simply cannot be tucked away into a category.
Take, for instance, the album’s longest track – the nine and a half-minute, majestic love song that is unconventional in every sense. Ka-Spel sings with an ominous, quavering voice throughout, beseeching his love to sing to him as he is celebrating “Christmas on the Moon,” which, festive as it is, is still “just another rock/ wrapped up in a fancy box.” Several minutes pass by in which nothing is heard but pulsating synths, desperate guitar riffs and Ka-Spel’s plea, “It’s time to fly!” You’re taken on an emotional spectrum parallel to the sonic metamorphosis of this song, taking on its air of cynicism at its start, ultimately arriving at a more hopeful state of mind.
Also hugely effective is the Pink Dots’ choice of song order. “A World With No Mirrors,” ends in an abysmal hollowness and the gurgling of an alien voice – this immediately segues into “My First Zonee,” a chip, frolicking ditty that would seem to fit perfectly in a children’s TV show on PBS. The tune is made all the more surreal and absurd with lyrics like “Milking the cow with my first Zonee/ Out on the trail, I’ll spank the pony,” and Ka-Spel’s perfect British storytelling voice. Whatever it is, you get the sense, upon the song’s end, that there may be nothing more desirable in the world than a Zonee.
The most brilliant track is found at the album’s conclusion. The aptly-titled “Cubic Caesar” is narrated by a quixotic hermit who is so confounded by the demands of his work that he has lost the capacity to live a truly fulfilling life. He ultimately acquiesces to the idea that maybe a contented existence simply isn’t in the stars for him – “Perhaps it’s been a decade since I touched another person/ I was always so uncertain so I chose to stay alone…” As he watches paint dry, he apologizes to all the kids he will never have because of this choice. “My schedule’s full from noon ’til night,” the song concludes. “It isn’t great but I’ll get by.” Sung in Ka-Spel’s low, demure growl, this track is one of the most heartbreaking testaments to the perils of modern life that you’re likely to come across in today’s rock.
Plutonium Blonde is just about as experimental as experimental rock can yet. What the Legendary Pink Dots have produced is chilling to the bone, harrowing and, oftentimes, even creepy – but in a good way. Their substance has only gotten better to match their style through the years. What they succeed in making, in their latest effort, is neither music nor a work of art best experienced from afar. You’ve got to check your reservations at the door, jump in and get your hands dirty with this one to get the full gist of what the band is trying to make you think and feel. Who cares about side effects, so long as having your mind ripped open and enlightened is one of them?