Of Montreal have had a good go at making weirdo psychedelia more of a modus operandi than a musical style. Indeed, since 1996 they’ve successfully been a psych-disco band, a psych-glam band, and a psych-country band. They’ve often and lately been accused of trying to be too psych(o)-something, of partaking in oddness for its own sake.
New album Innocence Reaches, then, seems to be musical mastermind Kevin Barnes desiring a bit more uncomplicated fun, and perhaps even a more direct emotional connection. The title and lyrics of bouncy synth-pop opener “let’s relate” make that clear: “I think that you’re great / Let’s relate.” It intrigues, to be sure.
And even with its unapologetically flamboyant accompanying video, “it’s different for girls” sees a cross-dressing Barnes earnestly empathizing across the sexual divide: “From when they are children / They’re depersonalized / Aggressively objectified,” he sings, his voice sweetened up with an awesome, fairly uncomplicated disco hook.
By the time they get to “my fair lady” (note more cross-gender empathy: “Because you have been so abused / I have to give all the love that was meant for you to some other girl”), you get a sense of their remarkable pop dexterity. They’re drawing on The Beatles and Pink Floyd, as of Montreal often have, along with a little Pet Shop Boys, and they wind up sounding not unlike Scissor Sisters at their best—not where you’d expect the group behind “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” to be nearly a decade later.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the deviations from that mission that don’t work here. While “les chants de maldoror” scores massive cultural plaudits for its reference to Lautréamont’s infamously depraved prose poem, the song itself is a mess of disjointed dissonance and lethargic vocals; thematically appropriate, sure, but you may not want to listen to it twice. But toward the end, the brilliantly titled “trashed exes” brings the album back to its fabulous deesko-pop pomposity (Barnes snarkily sneers, “Did you really try to love me? / That doesn’t sound like you”), even tossing in a cheeky reference to that other French peddler of cultural effrontery, Antonin Artaud.
Innocence Reaches isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it’s a refreshing change. With careful editing, you can actually have quite a lot of fun with this one.