Schizophrenia at Its Finest
The happy little notes that open Cate Le Bon’s latest offering, Mug Museum, are not to be trusted. The Welsh crooner-ella, best known for moody songs and dark lyrics, may want you to think her perspective has changed, but as the chorus of “I Can’t Help You” strikes a deliberately sour note and as she sings lyrics like “beat me like egg yolks,” you know it’s all an illusion. Mug Museum is like that: fun to listen to, dreary to listen to. But the melodies and Le Bon’s range draw you in and keep you there throughout.
Musically, Le Bon delivers simple instrumentation in an old-fashioned style, bringing to mind the likes of Patsy Cline without sounding like today’s Cline imitators like She and Him, making it feel both authentic and timeless. “Are You With Me Now?” is modernized by a drum beat that provides its own hook– that is, until the lush chorus comes in and takes your breath away. The bass line to “No God” brings shiny thigh-high boots to mind and the organ in “Mirror Me” might make you want to hunt vintage stores for colorful polyester mini-skirts. Not satisfied to ape the ’60s only, “Sisters” could have been on a Blondie album. But the balance of the songs helps them stand on their own, like “Duke,” which somehow sounds fresh and classic at the same time.
The lovely ballad “I Think I Knew” features a guest vocal from Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius), a clever move that helps Le Bon seem not quite so alone in the world. While Mug Museum shifts moods back and forth, leaving the listener feeling a little emotionally confused, it’s also very difficult to stop listening to. However, the final number, “Mug Museum,” is a slow sleeper that reminds you how terrible your life really is, but by the time you get there, you may agree that the ride was worth the crash.