REVIEW: The Czars: The Ugly People vs. The Beautiful People
The Czars: The Ugly People vs. The Beautiful People [Manifesto, 2002]
Three words? Liqueur-drenched debauchery.
The Czars have a voice drenched in reverb, deep and full-as-a-zeppelin, laced with oaken synths and an ocean of orchestral support. Though sometimes, as on "Lullaby 6000", there are echoes of Robert Pollard, this is really the domain of the Divine Comedy and Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, on steroids. Bizarre combinations stick their heads out of every doorway; pedal steel makes appearances under lute-driven, operatic ballads, summer-soaked electric guitar gives a foxy lining to the "Piano Man" earnesty of "Autumn", a vocoder trades places with Gregorian ba-ba-ba's and a fat-bottomed melodic surge on "This", the Cure meets Mercury Rev on "Side Effects". The Ugly People... is too big an album to really grasp: songs explode in masses of noise and effect, a quadruple-tracked chorus plunges into thick waters of sound, singing out romance and melancholy. It's Travis in Las Vegas, mandolins sitting on red silken cushions, drum kits scattered amidst minibars, a synth-orchestra in the hot-tub.
The problem with such overwhelming albums is that they become disconnected from real emotion: bombast, by definition, masks truth, and even if we are to seek out this Denver quintet's message, the presence of so many tongues and cheeks makes it hard to buy. "Hold on tight / Don't let go / Let it eat you from inside." Poetry? When set asea amidst hula-dancing backup vocals, Brazillian percussion, trumpet? It's magnificent, sure; opulent, certainly; but what does it all mean?
Ultimately, the Czars probably don't care. As the disc begins, the masquerade of "Drug" lowers a curtain on the outside world, paiting things in thick, luscious oil-paints - sinister as turkish delight. "You are a drug to me / I never ever thought it otherwise / And I love the lies you told to me / While looking me directly in my eyes." These are songs for Moulin Rouge, spectacular swirling dreams. It's an orgy with lofty ideals, the limbs of slow & moody Low slithering alongside master-arranger George Martin and crooning Rufus Wainwright. European fantasties reimagined by Americans, Slowdive shoegazing spiked with tequila. It's massive, debauched music, possibly empty, but dressed up in the finest of haute-couture, licking chocolate from the backs of models. The Ugly People vs. The Beautiful People is all flesh and flash, small-spirited but covered in glitter.