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Pedro The Lion
Jade Tree

Her name is emblazoned with indelible black ink underneath my sleeve. I’m speaking of course of Lisa, my high school sweetheart, now my wife—the mother of my offspring and the warmer of cold feet. On our second wedding anniversary, at the ripe age of twenty-two, I saw fit to earmark the occasion by having her name tattooed on my right tricep. The day after I had it done, I proudly displayed the permanent gesture of my love for one of my friends, to which he said, “What are you going to do if things don’t work out?” A simple question, to which I jokingly replied, “Well, it’s all uppercase old English letters and from a distance, it looks like it says USA. I’ll just go back and have them change it to that.”  Even though I was joking, I know that last comment sounds more than a little jaded and cynical, but nowadays it’s good to have a fallback plan, right?

Back in the good ole’ days before “happily ever after” became “happy, until I’m not anymore,” there were no fallback plans. Back then, you got married and stayed married, for better or for worse, even if it meant turning a blind eye to little indiscretions here and there. However, in this modern age of enlightenment, instant gratification and prenups, love American style is now disposable. It’s something we try on for size—seemingly as an affirmation of adulthood—and discard, like a suit gone out of fashion, when the wide-eyed wonderism fades. With almost 50% of American marriages ending in divorce—or worse—most couples feel accomplished if they’ve made it to their fifth anniversary. Given those statistics, having a fallback plan doesn’t sound so jaded after all, now does it?

Given that assertion, it’s seems only fitting that David Bazan, headmaster of Pedro The Lion, frames his new full-length, Control—a concept album about love and betrayal in the modern age—with a song about just that, having a fallback plan, even in the midst of presumed bliss. Bazan unfolds his latest epic narrative on “Options,” which introduces us to our protagonist as he's meting out the first of many soliloquizing quips: "We were walking holding hands, with our bare feet in the sand and the seagulls overhead/when I broke the spell and said I could never divorce you without a good reason/and though I may never have to/it’s good to have options/but for now, I need you.” over arpeggiated End Serenading-esque guitar lines, supplemented by Casey Foubert’s (also plays in Seattle-based, Seldom) sparse yet intuitive bass playing. 

On the next track, “Rapture,” (perhaps better known to longtime fans in its earlier incarnation as “The Millionaire” with different lyrics) Bazan tackles the allure of a moment of reckless abandon, versus the profound regret, yet to be realized: "Finally, a chance to breathe/Reaching for the fallen sheets, collapsing in a glowing heap/We’ve gone to far, we’ve done too much/We have to quit it/Just one more kiss, just one more touch/Please ten more minutes/This feels so good just barely moving." Just in case you weren’t astute enough to pick-up on the fact our protagonist is in the midst of an adulterous tyrst in some cheap hotel, Bazan kindly spells it out for you by preceding the lines above with: “This is how we multiply/Pity that it’s not my wife,” even setting the stage for his indiscretion with the line, “Gideon is in the drawer/Clothes scattered on the floor.

In one of the few missteps of the album and what I can only assume is a moment of solecism, the next three tracks, “Penetration” “Indian Summer” and “Progress” digress and finds the husband disillusioned, presumably a victim of corporate downsizing, musing on associated fallout. Although, musically the tracks are the album’s strongest, they seem out of context in the overall schema of the album and might even have fit better within the confines of Winners Never Quit. While the Joshua Tree-esque guitar lines during the bridge of “Penetration” make the track worth a listen, as usual it’s Bazan’s clever wordplay that makes the track standout: “Have you ever seen an idealist with gray hairs on his head?/Or successful men that keep in touch with unsuccessful friends?/You only think you did, I could have sworn I saw it too but as it turns out, it was just a clever ad for cigarettes.”  On “Indian Summer” and “Progress” Bazan curiously brings the kids into the equation for reasons unclear; I can only surmise that he’s attempting to explain the protagonists’ earlier wanderlust.

With the next three songs, “Magazine,” “Rehearsal” and “Second Best,” Bazan gives us the fly-on-the-wall treatment as the husband deals with his regret and imminent confrontation with his scorned wife. On “Magazine,” like any typical philanderer, the husband feebly tries to lessen the impact of his indiscretion by pointing out that his wickedness pales in the face of his wife’s righteousness: “Look, you earned your wings/ Are you an angel now or a vulture constantly hovering over, waiting for a big mistake.” ... “How does that work out for you in your holy quest to be above reproach.” Her response is documented on “Rehearsal,” when she says, “It’s priceless when you say have to work late, when we both know you’re at a motel/Here’s the thing that’s so much more depressing than the infidelity itself/ Darling, you are so unoriginal/Each move more obvious than the one before it.” In “Second Best,” the wife tries to come to terms with playing second fiddle and makes a last ditch effort to salvage the marriage with a failed attempt at intimacy, which she describes as, “Wet familiar exchanges like needle pulling thread/the empty movments that once were so inspired, desperate attempts to fan the flame, without the fire/The mattress creaks beneath the symphony of misery and cum.”

Hell hath no furry like a woman scorned, as our protagonist friend inevitably discovers. The second to last song, “Priests and Paramedics,” finds the wife on the killing end of a failed marriage, with a fallback plan of her own. As the man is being wheeled away to the ambulance—presumably after being stabbed by the wife—he asks if he’s going to die; the “trained” paramedics tell him he’ll be alright. By the end of the song, the priest delivers a somewhat disturbing graveside eulogy in which he intones:“We’re all gonna die, could be twenty years, could be tonight/Lately I have been wondering why we go to so much trouble to postpone the unavoidable and prolong the pain of being alive.”

Known for his penchant for intimate storytelling, Bazan has once again delivered a heavy-handed storyline, in a similar vein—albeit more sophisticated and tenebrous—to his previous effort, Winners Never Quit. While Bazan hasn’t exactly tilled any new ground musically, Control has its moments of brilliance. One thing is evident, he’s spent a great deal of time and painstaking effort honing his skills as a storyteller.

Control, unlike its predecessor, which ended with a little "oh well, look on the brightside" optimism: "Count it a blessing that your're such a failure your second chance might never have come," ends without a moral compass to leave the listener with a feeling of betterment. On the staid and melancholic ballad, “Rejoice,” you're left with the following pessimistic coda: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything were meaningless?/But everything is so meaningful and most everything turns to shit.”

On a scale of overly ambitious yet memorable rock concept albums, if one is Master Of Puppets and ten is O.K. Computer, Control rates a nine: The Texas Jersusalem Crossroads.

Dave Herrera

Track List:

  1. Options
  2. Rapture
  3. Penetration
  4. Indian Summer
  5. Progress
  6. Magazine
  7. Rehearsal
  8. Second Best
  9. Priests and Paramedics
  10. Rejoice

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