Jekyll had Hyde. Bowie had Ziggy. And of Montreal’s frontman Kevin Barnes has Georgie Fruit, an alter ego who describes himself as “just a black she-male.” His bizarre, hypersexualized persona provides the driving force behind the indie powerhouse’s new album “Skeletal Lamping,” the band’s phonically busiest and zaniest record to date. But while Georgie is certainly an interesting muse, the band can’t seem to let go of their tried-and-true style enough to fully channel his spirit.
In an interview with Pitchfork Media, Barnes explained that Georgie is in his mid-40s, has experienced a few sex changes, spent some time in prison and was in a funk band called Arousal during the 1970s. Presumably all this is the impetus for the proliferation of “Ooh la la”s on the record, complaints about white girls and even a self-pitying piano ballad.
Going funk, or she-male or whatever it is exactly that Georgie represents, might be an interesting new direction for the band. So far, though, they are unable to transcend their entrenched indie roots — especially when it comes to lyrics and titles. They give The Decemberists, with their keening weevil stevedores, a run for their money in this department.
To be fair, the album’s title represents more than pointless hipster intellectualism; Barnes chose the concept of “lamping,” a hunting technique which uses powerful lights to scare animals from their hiding places, as an analogy for this record’s relationship with his subconscious desires. “I haven’t yet decided if I should shoot or just capture them though,” Barnes wrote on his MySpace blog. Such indecision is manifested by his inability to fully inhabit the persona of his alter ego. Instead of epitomizing the thoughts of an aging transsexual, the lyrics occupy an uncomfortable area between erotic and nerdy. For example, there’s the chorus of a song titled, bizarrely, “For Our Elegant Caste”: “We can do it softcore if you want, but you should know that I go both ways.” The song is wonderfully catchy, but those lyrics are ridiculous. Meanwhile, the band’s 19th-century style elitism is still parading proudly on “Skeletal Lamping” with lines like “We started by giving each other interesting new sobriquets.” That is a sentence no self-respecting she-male funk musician would ever utter.
Occasionally the lyrics seem to reflect a proper amount of good-natured self-mocking. “I want to make you come / 300 times a day!” Georgie Fruit exclaims in the song “Gallery Piece.” This wonderfully ridiculous statement could be an approximation of the album’s musical philosophy — with its layers and snippets of tiny, complex fragments, the 15 songs are really divided into hundreds of musically distinct moments. The band’s decision to focus on manic transitions between their signature bouncy beats may not scream “funk,” but it’s what makes the album so much fun to listen to.
And so Georgie Fruit turns out to be more of a distraction from the band’s core quirkiness. The music he inspires may be more exhausting than compelling, and more importantly, he keeps being upstaged by Kevin Barnes and his predilection for words that would be ashamed to show up on the SATs.
“Skeletal Lamping” is a wild romp that in the end lacks any kind of direction. Still, the attempt is worth listening to — it might not reach 300 on the scale of CDgasms, but at least it tries.