Everything Wrong Is Imaginary
n the 1990s and beyond, rock ‘n’ roll has accepted the virtue, if not the abject necessity, of recycling, if not flat-out cannibalizing, its own past, and few pop wunderkinds did it better than Lilys mastermind Kurt Heasley. Beginning with his 1992 debut he was notorious for artfully reinterpreting, if not simply impersonating, musical geniuses past and present, from Kevin Shields to Steve Marriott to Robyn Hitchcock.
But eventually every pop chameleon runs out of colors, and as the gaps between Lilys releases grew longer and longer, Heasley ran out of good ideas to reinvent. With his new album, Everything Wrong Is Imaginary, he seems to have abandoned the idea that he needs a good idea to begin with, and has instead devoted all his energy to the songs themselves. It’s a refreshing effort.
The best results are both familiar and strange: The synthesizer icing, for example, of “With Candy,” a gilded piece of nu-pop which could have been inspired by Prefab Sprout or Scritti Politti, or the fuzzy psych romp of the instrumental title track which percolates like an overflowing rawk fondue pot.
Elsewhere Heasley skips through the tight muffled trumpet and bass licks under the clap-stomp of “A Diana’s Diana” and wallows in the muddy “Where the Night Goes” before drifting off in the hazy “O.I.C.U.R.” Those songs look back to previous Lilys works Better Can’t Make Your Life Better, In the Presence of Nothing and Eccsame the Photon Band, respectively.
In fact it’s difficult not to hear elements of every Lilys album except Zero Population Growth and possibly The 3-Way in Everything. This makes it feel like an enjoyably varied and intriguing odds-and-ends collection instead of a cohesive set of tracks like 2003’s most recent Lilys album, Precollection, in which it sounded as if Heasley was backing himself into a corner in his ongoing search for new sub-genres to mine.
Heasley changed his recording habits with Everything, building the songs at home and then shipping them to an outside producer who fleshed out the songs with studio musicians. It’s tempting to speculate that the change in technique lent some energy to an enterprise that sounded rather tired on its last outing almost three years ago.
It doesn’t try to scrape the lofty heights of the two or three masterpieces in Heasley’s catalogue, but by not making the effort, it doesn’t sink as low as his least impressive stuff. The final result sounds like Lilys influenced by vague inflections from the British Invasion, shadows of psychedelic flourishes, and hints at shoegaze vistas. For most artists, this would be a warning sign, a suggestion that they had run out of new ideas. But for an artist who never sat on one idea for longer than a single album before jumping to a new idea, failing to choose a new direction is a direction of sorts.