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The Zincs - Black Pompadour

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Artist: The Zincs

Album: Black Pompadour

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Apr. 30, 2007

If you read the lyrics in the liner notes to the Zincs’ Black Pompadour without listening to the music, you would get exactly the wrong impression of what the album sounds like. On the other hand, listen to the music without paying attention to the lyrics, and you would never be able to guess what lead singer Jim Elkington is going on about. Black Pompadour has a basic creative tension, and that comes from the disparity between its polished and tasteful music and its lyrics, which are laden with the kind of dark imagery that, once upon a time, would have suited your average hardcore band.

First, consider the lyrics. There’s romantic angst on one song (“Some rays of daylight could irradiate this tomb, once seen with twice sight, you could be absent from your doom, but you’re hamstrung and juvenile”), there’s disdain for fame and vanity on another (“I’m so good looking, I’m going to tell you what you’re all about”), and, on a song entitled “Dave the Slave,” some more particularized scorn (“And when you see an airplane icing the sky, don’t you wish you’d made a good place to die, Dave the slave?”). Elkington’s delivery, however, doesn’t betray anything about his dark subject matter. Instead, his measured tenor distances him from the words he sings; he sounds bemused, and maybe even a little bored at times, although he livens up on three tracks featuring Edith Frost.

The music, on the other hand, is the sort of polished and cerebral work that has made many of the Zincs’ Chicago brethren famous. It’s a slightly more raucous affair than Dimmer, the Zincs’ last album, with an emphasis on slightly: The lead guitar parts give the album more of a lounge music atmosphere, as opposed to the acustic work on Dimmer, while producer John McEntire added a few electronic flourishes that were not present on the Zincs’ previous albums. As always, the playing is impeccable, although the cool professionalism evident on each song makes many of the album's tracks indistinguishable. Only two songs, “The Mogul’s Wives” and the opener “Head East, Kaspar,” really stand out – the latter because it has the most recognizable melody, the former because it has the longest instrumental break.

Black Pompadour is a solid outing, although it’s also the kind of album people are more likely to admire than to love. I suspect that most listeners’ experience with this album will follow this trajectory: The songs make a modest impression the first time through, the bleak lyrics begin to sink in on the second or third playing, and on balance the tension between words and music makes Black Pompadour a little bit more interesting than one first suspected.

By Tom Zimpleman

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