The Legendary Pink Dots are, in fact, not especially legendary. I’d even go as far as to venture that they’re actually quite obscure. As such they’re automatically admitted into a hastily-constructed pantheon of collectively colourful con-men, populated by other such specious spectrum offenders as The White Stripes (no actual stripy whiteness to be found there), Deep Purple (distinctly lacking in purpleness, deep or otherwise) and Blue (just some kind of sick joke). When not appearing in court on charges of dubious advertising practises, the Dots are busily attempting a makeshift reconstruction of the Great Wall of China with their back catalogue; a jovial pastime they share with The Fall. So prolific are these Pinkies that The Poppy Variations was released in tandem with another full-length album entitled The Whispering Wall. Annoyingly, I fear I may have elected to review the wrong one.
I’d be the first to admit that I’m something of a casual Dots fan. My sphere of reference is mostly limited to semi-random tracks that I’ve downloa … err… fortuitously found in the street. Still, what I’ve heard tends to be bathed in wonderful lunacy and a twist of the apocalyptic. These are admirable qualities. Even Edward Ka-Spel’s occasionally ‘Cor bloimy Mary Poppins!’-ish vocals don’t manage to piss me off. Kafkaesque overtones, heavily prevalent on albums like The Tower, are fine and dandy by me. Sometimes though, they tend to let songs… well… go on a bit. The odd segment of noodly jam nonsense is to be expected from a group who don’t so much flirt with psychedelic as do baboon-like mating rituals directly in front of it, but when you turn out a song like “L’oiseau Rare (Parts I and II)” and pack the last five minutes with sounds that suspiciously resemble a space shuttle trying to conduct illicit phone sex with a microwave questions have to be asked.
In my case, one question is usually ‘GRAAGGH, WHY?’ but then people always tell me I over-react to things. Selfish bastards. They sure won’t be saying that after the suicide! Anyway, the truth is The Poppy Variations is rather frustrating. Each track tends to start out as a mini-masterpiece and end up as a cloud of self-consuming wibble. It’s not that I have anything against debatably over-long tracks either; Disintegration is possibly my favourite album of all time. Indeed, despite my misgivings regarding length there is still much to enjoy on this record. It’s precisely this presence of considerable quality amidst the less thrilling parts that results in such frustration. Flashes of stately piano, echoing over an unsettlingly alien rhythm, elevate opener “Krussoe” to the heights evidently sought after, and there are unexpected (but welcome) jazzy tinges throughout many of the pieces—most notably on “The Equaliser”.
None of which can make me forget that half of the things I’ve sat through have left me pretty cold. I’m quite prepared to accept that some may find these same sections mind-expandingly orgasmic, but the Dots have done it so much better in the past. My hope is that The Whispering Wall was the principal release of this current duo and The Poppy Variations represents the side of the group that dabbles in even more extreme weirdness than usual. I find that particular aspect quite tiresome, but perhaps I simply can’t deal with the necessary level of audio enlightenment required for true enjoyment.
by Peter Parrish