The Silent League
The Orchestra, Sadly, Has Refused
’m going to put forth a proposition, and how you feel about it will probably determine how much you’re going to agree with me about the Silent League: Deserter’s Songs was a vastly better record than All Is Dream.
Yes, latter-day Mercury Rev is a thing of beauty at times, but the tougher and leaner Deserter’s Songs succeeds over the more grandiose All Is Dream because the latter is overdone; individual songs sparkled like jewels, but taken as a whole it was like eating too much chocolate. There’s no dynamic, variety and it’s prone to spoiling as a result.
Well, if All Is Dream was gilding the lily, The Orchestra, Sadly, Has Refused is all gild, no flower. And that I’m referencing Mercury Rev should be no surprise, since the head of the League (Justin Russo) toured with the Rev during the tours for those albums and played on All Is Dream. These are very, very pretty songs, redolent of recent Flaming Lips as well, but as with Mercury Rev’s later material, they work best in apart from one another.
In isolation, the stifling homogeny of the album doesn’t come across as strongly, and Russo’ Wayne Coyne-lite croon doesn’t get as tiresome. Isolation allows you to focus more fully on the excellent songs that do crop up, like “The Catbird Seat”. That song is distinguished by a hint of the darkness underlying All Is Dream and the slightly tougher musical attack, but even those slight differences make it stand out strongly against the neutral palette of the rest of The Orchestra, Sadly, Has Refused. The opening title track also acquits itself favorably, though how much of this is due to its sweeping orchestral glamour and how much due to the fact that it’s the first of many songs of sweeping orchestral glamour here is hard to tell.
It’s hard to fault an album for being too much of a good thing, but there it is. Songs like “Goliath”, “Glass Walls” and “Linus” just blend together. By the end you no longer look forward to another swooping, disheartened melody, you want variety of any kind. Tasteful piano and strings borders almost every track here, but the effect is to fence the songs in to a stylistic pasture in rather than to enhance them.
It’s likely that if I’d heard the Silent League in a smaller format, some singles or an EP, I would have liked them better. And I’m sure those with a higher tolerance for this sort of florid chamber pop could love this record. But for me it’s like a slice of rich cheesecake: no matter how much I want to like the whole, I have to stop after a few small bites so I don’t feel sick.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2004-06-24