The Tiger Lillies - Circus Songs
Jan 27, 2019
85
This being an album of supposed 'Circus Songs' recorded by the perennially mischievous and flamboyantly camp Tiger Lillies you'd be forgiven for readying yourself for an onslaught of outrageous technicolour freakery. Not so, instead what you're confronted with here is the band's most consistent, refined, atmospheric and, dare I say, restrained work. So if you're hoping to hear the Elephant Man hot footing it around the room then it's to this album's 'sort of' follow up 'Freakshow' that you should turn your attentions; for this album remains a resolutely slow-burning pleasure made up of surprisingly subtle song writing and subdued instrumentation.

The musical palette is for the most part exactly what we're used to with the Lillies (accordion, toy drums, double bass) but at key moments keyboards emerge from low in the mix to help bring an almost Lynch-esque ambience to proceedings. The first time they show up is on the atypical and dreamlike 'Sleep with the Fishes', a piece that comes across as strangely comforting thanks in large part to these alien synth textures. The second time they appear is on the far darker 'Bearded Lady', the lyrics describing a cast of local undesirables including Gypsy Joe, your go to man if you want someone's throat slashed. This time the keyboards provide an intermittent backdrop of creepy swirling effects that perfectly reflect the mood of underlying violence and lurking threats.

It's undeniably impressive that, despite their all consuming shtick and highly stylised musical approach, the Tiger Lillies remain one of those incredibly rare acts who can always be relied on to find fresh ways to deliver the same sorts of ideas. At times when listening to this carefully considered collection it's easy to forget that this is the same band who recorded the depraved and wilfully abrasive 'Bad Blood + Blasphemy' a mere year earlier. Whether this will stand up as your favourite Lillies release will therefore come down to matters of taste; the laughs are fewer, the shocks somewhat dulled, and yet the song writing itself is arguably all the stronger for it. How can this be? Put it all down to another act of artful illusion from the best in the business.
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