The brainchild of David Bazan, Pedro The Lion may never have scaled the heights that certain other 90s bands from the Seattle area did, but their blend of brutality and fragile vulnerability is still an enthralling prospect
Having reformed from a 15-year hiatus to deliver a new album for the ultra on trend Big Scary Monsters label, they’ve clearly not lost any of their edge. Bazan’s description of the writing process as mining the past to discover who you are right now rings true, and the most compelling moments here are those which place his revelatory, highly personal ones at the centre of the sound. The short and bittersweet ‘Piano Stool’, for instance, with its memories of churchgoing days of youth portrayed through little more than gently strummed chords and the subtlest tinges of keyboards, aside from that rich, evocative voice that is. Bazan certainly knows how to paint a rich picture, there’s no denying.
Once in full flow, the band sound like grunge going in reverse, with the attitude and atmosphere in place but the more macho posturing and swampy, distorted guitars removed. ‘Tracing The Grid’ kicks off with a spiky, angular riff and juddering rhythm reminiscent of the first handful of R.E.M. albums, while ‘Black Canyon’ channels the stripped down manoeuvres of American Music Club, Bazan’s soaring voice not dissimilar in its dynamic-heavy technique to their more celebrated frontman Mark Eitzel.
‘Clean Up’ is probably the 13-track selection’s most accessible and immediate moment, with a chorus you’ll probably find yourself singing half way through next week, and sentiments that echo the anti-debauchery of Ian Dury’s ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll’. It’s not a bad advert for cleaning your life up, as they go. ‘Powerful Taboo’ is a weird hybrid of Tom Petty rock/pop and Nirvana-style abandon, but to these ears anyway, the mid paced chuggers like this and the album’s closing tune ‘Leaving The Valley’ are the least successful. But they’re by no means disastrous, and they do add a little to what is definitely a varied array of songs.
With a troubled career and a turbulent history of line ups behind them, it’s an achievement that Pedro The Lion have managed to rise from the flames at all. Let’s hope, on this evidence anyway, that we won’t have to wait 15 years for the next one.
Phoenix is released on 18th January through Big Scary Monsters/Polyvinyl).