Tigers Rise From The Dead…and Sing?

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First off, I think that it’s important to note that there weren’t any animals harmed in the making of this album. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is the hipster sequel to the Plastic Ono Band.  Model and musician Kemp Muhl takes the place of Yoko Ono, and filling the enormous shoes of John Lennon is a guy with a remarkably similar name, Sean Lennon.

The first time I was haunted by a prehistoric feline was their performance of “Animals” on the Late Show with David Letterman. With their big hats, long hair, and flowing clothes, Sean and Kmep would not be out of place on a stage 40 years ago (or at Coachella, where the two met).  Midway through their performance, their throwback to the seventies was enhanced with Wicker Man-esque backup dancers in flowing robes and animal heads.

Is it fair that I have compared Sean and his significant other to John and Yoko, focused on their appearance, and haven’t even touched on their musical ability? Absolutely.  Their music is delightful, and I’ll get there soon, but this couple has made a conscious decision to link themselves to Sean’s parents.  In 2010, they even enlisted controversial photographer Terry Richardson to recreate the famous Rolling Stone cover of a naked John curled around Yoko.

On to the music now! The dead cat band is refreshingly not modern.  In an industry that has become factory-like with hired songwriters, studio musicians, and autotune, Midnight Sun is almost all Kemp and Sean.  All songs save one are co-written by the two, with Lennon being top billed.  Additionally, nearly all of the instruments are played by the pair.

In terms of content, the sound reminded me of a cross between late Beatles and nineties garage rock. There’s a lot of very enjoyable noise, some interesting melodies, and the vocals are amazingly optimistic.

“Animals” is an exercise in nonsense that seems to work when meowed by really tall feline specters. As far as I can tell, the song is a criticism of media scrutiny and animal confinement.  Or it could be metaphorical.  Or it could be an attempt at metaphor.  I’m not sure exactly what it is or what it means, but it really is delightful.

What keeps “Devil You Know” from sounding like a Syd Barrett outtake are Kemp’s very clear lead vocals. When Sean’s vocals come in it’s almost distracting how similar he sounds to his father.  Overall, “Devil” is equal in joy to “Animals”, but adds a drive that builds to a cacophonous conclusion before a relaxing drop.

Finally, “Poor Paul Getty” is a dramatic departure from both “Animals” and “Devil” in every way imaginable. PPG takes a page from White Town on the music with a lot of electronic beeps and boops and actually embraces a more traditional narrative lyric about the truly unfortunate Paul Getty.

This album is far from conventional, the influences are incredibly mixed, and it’s not an album for everyone, but it is an album that I really enjoyed listening to and learning about.

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