The Green Pajamas
The Night Races into Anna
espite being dubbed “legendary” by their hometown newspaper, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, The Green Pajamas are, for the most part, a psych pop secret. The Night Races into Anna, a collection of rarities and unreleased songs taken from sessions spanning the past nine years, will presumably do little to change that. Formed in 1984 when principal players, Jeff Kelly and Joe Ross met at a party and bonded over precipitation (namely, The Beatles B-Side “Rain” and Paisley Underground patrons Rain Parade), the band released their first album Summer of Lust that very same year. But despite a minor mid ‘80s College Radio hit (“Kim the Waitress”), they hovered rather than taking off—helped, no doubt, by their sporadic live dates, numerous lineup changes, and an elongated hiatus in the early ‘90s.
The group returned in 1997 with Strung Out Behind the Sun, and it’s from this point that the songs collected on The Night Races into Anna (the band’s third (!) release of outtakes and rarities) have been culled. This record, as with their official album releases, contains a number of promising psych pop tunes that—despite a discernible hook here or memorable guitar line there—tend to fall flat. Jeff Kelly’s vocals are partly to blame. His languid elocution and half-asleep singing style is often at odds with the band, which mixes the aforementioned Paisley Underground influences with a Soft Boys veneer and even sounds, at times, like Olivia Tremor Control covering Tom Petty.
With twenty tracks spread over seventy-five minutes there’s a lot to digest and it’s the previously released rarities, rather than the unreleased songs and outtakes, that fare better. “The Haunted Dollhouse,” first released on a Ptolemaic Terrascope mix in 2003, benefits from its creepy female backing vocals, while ”She Turns Me On” is stunning in its simplicity. The mainly acoustic song, which was previously released on the Rubric 01 compilation, lolls along on a loping bass line, while Kelly, on the verses at least, gives his best vocal performance. Despite being happily married, Kelly has a curious way of depositing female names throughout his songs. Album title aside, we’re introduced to Elaine, Tess, Sally, Mina, Carol, Susanna, and Natalie. Only on “Song for Tess” though, does it feel like he’s singing about a real person, a daughter perhaps, wherein he intones that she could grow up to be a ballerina, mathematician, or a classical musician, before ending, in a self-deprecating fashion: “Maybe you’ll be just like me / Nothing special at all.”
If Kelly’s tunes are competent but far from contagious, the contributions of keyboardist Eric Lichter border on contempt. “Beautiful Deadly” (produced by former-Posie Ken Stringfellow) is a mess of Seussiann rhymes, while “Maureenie in a Bottle” goes a little something like this: “This is Maureenie in a bottle / She can even make it rain / She can cook us bacon carbonara / The weight that we will never gain.” Only on “The 4 Mistakes in Life” (an outtake from 1998’s All Clues Lead to Meaghan’s Bed) does he come close to redemption, but by then it’s too late.
On paper, The Green Pajamas have a pedigree that should pique my interests and I’ll admit that the band’s proper albums, though still overly long and languorous in parts, are better than this collection. (Start with Strung Out Behind the Sun, if you’re curious.) Listening to the non-plus material gathered here though, you understand why The Green Pajamas are still a secret.
Reviewed by: Kevin Pearson
Reviewed on: 2007-01-03