Kristian Hoffman certainly has a resume in his favor. Work with bizarre electro-pop luminary Klaus Nomi, No Wave legend James Chance, and Bad Seed Kid Congo Powers has certainly shown Hoffman’s electic appreciation of all that is caustic and satirical. To verify that, just look at Hoffman’s work in The Mumps, a band that revels in the bitterness of 1970s New York as well as the unbelievably over-the-top kitsch that was so integral to the work of the aforementioned Nomi.
The new release,&, allows Hoffman to flex his phonebook. Choosing to recruit friends ranging from the endlessly awe-inspiring Russell Mael (Sparks) to the ever-dreamy, acerbic ex-Bongwater actress, Ann Magnuson, Hoffman shows impeccable taste. & at its very worst is still a collection of some of the most distinctively interesting and intelligent voices in music of the past 50 years. Even Paul Reubens makes an appearance, and its about time. You’d think that after that cameo on Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors, everybody would be asking for him to record with them.
Each track on & pairs Hoffman with someone new, someone who brings something distinct and enjoyable to the mix. For the most part, however, that mix plays like a 1960s rock musical. There are plenty of cynical songs about love which don’t contain any specific revelations, and unfortunately the bitterness on & simply doesn’t pack a punch. It’s deeply disappointing because & should be able to knock you on your ass. Lydia Lunch, Sparks, Van Dyke Parks, and Ann Manguson were all able to do it on their own, and here they are, on the same album and all of that stinging sensation is gone. Kristian Hoffman’s lyrics seem to want to give the impression of Oscar Wilde on magic mushrooms, but aren’t always effective. It isn’t that verbosity is a problem in music, clearly influences like Parks would show that, the problem lies in the fact that Hoffman hasn’t figured out clearly what he wants to convey on this album. While irony thankfully takes a backseat here to Hoffman’s unique sense of the off-beat, this skeptical look at the trials and tribulations of love suffers from a lack of necessity. Chalk it up to Hoffman’s aesthete approach, maybe.
To assume that witty, sharp jabs at love started with Stephen Merritt, of course, would be grossly inaccurate. Tin Pan Alley, French and German cabarets, and even 10cc all could factor into Hoffman’s equation, yet somehow he has managed to create the sound of a Gap ad gone bad (or good, depending on whose side you’re on).. “When first we met the barren snow bloomed just because we willed it so. This passion play was engineered, but when the mutant sheep appeared, didn’t I see you cry?“, Hoffman sings in “Revert To Type”, displaying Hoffman’s frustrating ability to turn what might be considered Surrealist-inspired prose into explosively enthusiastic pop music.. The album gets better and better with each successive listen. Hoffman has figured out structure, experimentation, and style to a fine precision, one only hopes he will have a chance to apply to something more substantial than an exploration of something as vague, ambitious, yet limiting as “LOVE.” Speaking of which, does anyone know if Ann Magnuson is single and looking for a record reviewer with medicore/poor ability?
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