Ministers of Urge
Well, gay church folk music this ain’t. And that is, somehow, a departure from previous Hidden Cameras albums. The album title may have tipped you off, but maturation was apparently on frontman Joel Gibb’s mind. AGE is potent where earlier work was ephemeral, and it’s occasionally dead serious-– not something you’d immediately expect from the band responsible for “Golden Streams.”
The first two tracks of AGE showcase the band at their most effective. We mentioned “gay church folk music” earlier. It’s a label Gibb made up, possibly as a joke, but it was also weirdly accurate. Much of their earlier work was characterized by floating, occasionally harmonizing vocals. That, mixed with highly innocuous instrumental support, gave even their snarkiest songs (“Underage” for example) some sunny subversiveness. Right of the bat, AGE upgrades to “gay orchestra pop”. Both “Skin and Leather”-– a Gregorian-tinged ode to S&M-– and second track “Bread for Brat” are string section showpieces. They’re effective ones too; Gibb has a gift for mixing his voice into a sonic background. Vocals and strings cooperate beautifully on the opening track. Gibb’s lyrics are a little muddied and not always easy to understand, but it hardly matters. He’s at his best droning out looping, repeating lines into the swirl of violins.
The one problem with an orchestral angle that good is that any songs missing it start to look bad in a hurry. It’s not enough to doom “Doom,” which survives courtesy of a mercilessly driving beat and some solid vocals from Gibb. On the other hand, a lack of variety keeps “Afterparty” firmly on the ground (despite a weird, and initially promising reggae beat), where it stays for six long minutes.
But those are two low points in an album full of highlights. Lead single “Gay Goth Scene” deserves special mention. While the lines “We don’t want no gay goth scene in this house / We don’t want no gorgeous teen in your mouth” sound a little tongue-in-cheek, and certainly would have been on previous Cameras albums, but they’re a little more sinister this time around. The instrumental rush behind Gibb is clue enough, but it’s the brilliant, demonic vocal bridge (contributed by Margaret Mary O’Hara) that really makes you take this one seriously. Oh, and if that’s not enough, go watch the music video and feel bad about everything for a bit.
“Carpe Jugular” has to be brought up as well, largely because it’s such an anomaly. Imagine the Pet Shop Boys slammed into “Personal Jesus”-era Depeche Mode. It’s odd, but a lot of fun and completely unexpected. Closing track “Year of the Spawn” was a fine note to exit on. The band finish as they begin-– riding a gorgeous orchestral wave. We wouldn’t have it any other way.