Cursive: The Ugly Organ
if you like this you'll like: Sunny Day Real Estate, The Weakerthans, The Cure, Planes Mistaken for Stars, Rainer Maria, The Smiths, Pulp's Different Class.
REVIEW: Cursive: The Ugly Organ
Cursive: The Ugly Organ [Saddle Creek, 2003] (mp3s)
Three words? a horse's mouth
If albums were racehorses, Cursive's The Ugly Organ would be the stubborn horse that refuses to enter the starting-gate, as if it were denying it was a horse and at the same time making no effort to appear any less horse-like.
After an arty gibberish intro ("The Ugly Organist"), Cursive shifts directly into the denial stage. "Some Red Handed Slight of Hand" and "Art is Hard" go right to work bashing emo music, specifically those "boys who sell their love affairs." Is 'biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you' the new nu metal? If not, then 'immediately-contradicting-yourself' must be. Cursive follows these anti-Dashboard manifestos with exactly the sort of song that they condemn. "The Recluse" is the desperate plea of a lonely one-night-stander in search of a meaningful relationship. Hey Cursive, who's selling their love affairs now? Assholes.
Fortunately for Cursive, their music makes up for what the subject-matter lacks. The musicianship on "Driftwood" overcomes the song's ridiculous Pinocchio theme; "A Gentleman Caller" and "Bloody Murderer" work as well, restoring dignity to the cello after the vicious inhumanities imposed upon it by Metallica and Hole Unplugged.
The Ugly Organ gives us short, aggressive songs - and I emphasis short. The average song length is a mere two-and-a-half minutes. Like Domestica, Cursive's last full-length, this is a concept album without any traces of prog-rock posing. The only problem is that the concept seems to amount to "a sinister world where Cursive re-records Domestica with more orchestral maneuvers and cryptic lyrics". If you didn't love Cursive before, there is nothing here to change your mind. Still, the songs Cursive creates along its well-beaten path are sonically innovative and have a nice overlapping quality, à la Abbey Road, side two.
The Ugly Organ suffers no shortage of original ideas, but the band is at its best when its influences are worn on its thrift-store sleeves. Cursive's album-closer, the epic "Staying Alive," is the best Sunny Day Real Estate song since Jeremy Enigk found Christ. And in an unprecedented move, singer Tim Kasher's vocals on "Butcher the Song" and "The Recluse" appear to be lifted straight from the playbook of Different Class-era Pulp. The Smiths and the Cure are also approximated throughout the entire recording.
The Ugly Organ is a collection of good songs violently threatening to become great songs. And Cursive has the potential to fulfill these threats -- we'll just be waiting until they reconcile with their inner-racehorse.