Legendary Pink Dots
The Dots have adorned Whispering Wall with disturbing cover art — a blood red wooden wall streaked with faint luminescent handprints — and a subconscious reference to world turmoil in the title where the wailing wall becomes the whispering wall. And like the wall in the title, this is a more somber affair, gentle and saddened. Whispering Wall is a glittering magic-hour gem, marked with somber little scars and light pulses. Drained and weakened, bruised by a future/present rushing at you like a runaway truck.
Opening track “Soft Toy” shifts gears radically from restrained, elliptical ghostly-organ driven space rock with Ka-Spel cooing “I’m your soft toy,” to a climax of blistering Frippish guitar solo courtesy of Eric Drost. It’s amazing. “A Distant Summer” is buoyed along by crystalline, clear guitar notes picked in mantra washes, while rudimentary electronics clack and Neils Van Hoornblower emerges from the empty air with saxophone fills, as if summoned by the ghostly moan of Ka-Spel’s incantatory, “specters moan/ the dancing bone/ murmured woooooooo.” It’s like a cursed music box. “Dominic” merges the Dots’ well-documented love of Syd Barrett with lyrics referencing Humpty Dumpty and breaks of unrestrained music hall/toy soldier whimsy, to their fascination with the darker, slower side of Jamaican musiks, sandwiched between these elegant and oddly seductive dub textures and keyboard washes that call to mind the best of 4AD (This Mortal Coil).
“In Sickness And In Health” summons up a queasy, slow-burning sense of dread (with no hope of resolution — EVER), where the ensemble almost begins to work together on a subconscious amusical level, summoning up primal fears and sadness: the mordant chime of the keyboards, isolationist moans of the horns and seemingly random guitar tics all meld together into a wondrous, slowly-emerging tapestry of melancholia and regret while the vocals are content to lurk in and among the webs being spun, filling the empty spaces, dredging up old wounds, searching for the elusive other, trying on filigree masks. It’s jaw-droppingly magnificent. I really dig the bridge in “For Sale,” where the music crumbles away after Ka-Spel’s chants of “Don’t turn your back” into a rush and roar of ghost voices, before pulsing ancient (Wendy Carlos-y) keyboards, electronics and horn rumbles reassert that indeed the ghost in the machine has been purged.
“King Of A Small World” is old-school super cool menacing Mack The Knife-ish jazz on industrial-strength codeine and the demon rum, with walking basslines, organ stabs and Ka-Spel giving a deranged performance, slurring and shadowboxing, veering from “I’m sorry” to “make my day.” “The Region Beyond” is a lithe instrumental, like mercury/quicksilver drops dividing and subdividing. “06” gets to the heart of the Legendary Pink Dots’ wondrous schizophrenia; lounge waltz tempos and flourishes (complete with jazzy sax and piano) are used to buoy along lyrics that defy both whimsy and suicidal depression as one, “but the poor man chokes/and cuts off both his ears/shouts I’ll miss you/you are not what I asked for.” I figure this is as close as we’ll get to Edward Gorey put to music.
The Jamaican influence rears its head again in the gritty, lo-fi ska/dub of “Peek A Boo.” This is a surprising and totally awesome departure from the rest of the record, and ain’t it funny how classic ska/blue beat serves as such a perfect accompaniment to Ka-Spel’s mad eyed fables? (Also reminds me of the stories about Bob Dylan and The Salvation Army band, circa Blonde On Blonde.) Closer “Sunken Pleasure/Rising Pleasure/No Walls, No Strings” is the closing song-cycle as conceptual centerpiece. “Sunken Pleasure” is innocence and experience fighting for control over a deceptively ambient and childlike musical accompaniment. The last word is “die,” tellingly. What sounds like actual deep-sea diving precedes Ka-Spel’s cavernous (almost literally) a cappella singsong on “Rising Pleasure,” before distant church bells and a solitary piano move to the fore. “No Walls, No Strings” begins with windswept, funeral synths that seem to map out a vast expanse of unexplored land at the very edge of the earth, or maybe the sunken and rising pleasures referred to before were actually the mythical expanses of lost Atlantis?
There are so few bands that could keep up this level of quality over such a long career. Let’s move them into the “Heroes” list, shall we?