The Black Magic Show
eith Richards once described rock ‘n’ roll as “music for the neck down.” It’s Little Richard’s wail. It’s David Bowie’s sexuality. It is Iggy Pop: crowd surfing, naked, rolling in smashed glass, doing God knows what act of irreverent destruction. Rock ‘n’ roll is not serious. It is not Elefant’s The Black Magic Show.
The dark, overproduced, and utterly joyless sophomore effort from the NYC indie-quartet is a by-product of rampant touring (off of 2003’s splendid, and danceable, Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid), several celebrity hook-ups and Page Six appearances by front man Diego Garcia, and reading Russian novels (this, somehow, translated into a track on the album titled “Lolita,” which, though written by a Russian, was written in English for an American audience…more on this in a moment). The album sounds like the end of a memorable night you will probably forget: lots of minor keys, synth, and hollow lines like “It’s always fun to lose control.” This last bit, from the album’s opener, “Black Magic Show (Introducing),” when sung by Garcia in his detached, 1980s-Euro, Robert Smith-esque croon, sounds a lot like something he’d like to believe. Add some overly clean guitar riffs, bounding harpsichord and some (again) clean and industrial sounding drums and you have a general sense of the song, as well as the ten that follow.
The aforementioned “Lolita” begins with some high-pitched, contained feedback—even the feedback on this album feels far too immaculate, probably because producer Don Gilmore (famous for his work with Linkin Park) wanted to give Elefant that Good Charlotte, bubble-punk sound. Kevin McAdams clicks away at the hi-hat while Mod, the guitarist with a stage-name, comes in with an ominous sounding riff. Garcia harmonizes with Mod both on guitar and vocals, singing: “Can you tell me what you’re thinking / I just melt inside your eyes / Kiss me like they do in movies / Modern child of the night.” Garcia sounds earnest (but still detached). He’s singing about, I’m assuming, an underage girl. Is it supposed to be ironic? Or creepy? Or (and here’s what I fear the most) cool? It is, in three-and-a-half minutes, everything wrong with rock. No fun from the neck down and disconcerting from the neck up.
If it sounds like I'm being too hard on Elefant, I am (there is one good track on The Black Magic Show, called “Uh Oh Hello,” that makes very good use of handclaps). That’s because this is a band that should know better, and one need only listen to Sunlight to realize it. On Sunlight, I got the feeling that all the band really cared about was making songs that would get people to dance and maybe, just maybe, get them laid. And they were silly and heartsick and Garcia deadpanned lines like: “She was standing beneath the chandelier / I offered her chocolates, and some beer / She said no, I said why? / She said no, I said why?” It was surprising that such a seemingly cool band from NYC could deliver lines so uncool, which, in turn, made them cooler. Vladimir Nabokov writes in the foreword to Lolita that: “‘offensive’ is frequently but a synonym for ‘unusual’; and a great work of art is of course always original, and thus by its very nature should come as a more or less shocking surprise.” No surprises on The Black Magic Show: just a dull, droning bit of mainstream rock.
Reviewed by: Ryan Bradley
Reviewed on: 2006-04-20
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