- God Help You Dumb Boy
- 17 Lashes
- The Cold House Hymns
- Belle’s Palsy
- Mother Is A Carpegian
- Sleep Sweet Countrymen
- King Of Men
- Oh Lord, Why Have You Been So Cruel To Me?
I have become less than a man,
November 23, 2005
By G. Moses “theonlytruegeo” (Men…Of…The…Sea!)
Our Lady of the Broken Spine may initially disappoint fans of Reverend Glasseye’s superlative debut album, Black River Falls. In the four-year gap between the two, it’s only natural that their sound should not have remained static, but initially the change is a little disorienting. There is considerably less of the “midnight cabaret” vibe on Our Lady; it sounds, if not exactly anything approaching “conventional,” then less aggressively stylized. MUCH less like Tom Waits. This at first disappointed the Waits fan in me, but the music here is strong enough to ultimately sweep away any misgivings.
The Reverend has always had great lyrics, even if they have frequently been nearly indecipherable; thankfully, this time they’re included in the booklet. Thematically, this is actually a much more unified record than its predecessor: nearly all the songs are first-person narratives delivered by people who are horribly, cripplingly damaged-physically, mentally, spiritually, or, more often, some combination. Hence, the album’s title: Our Lady being presumably their patron saint. They desperately struggle to escape their burdens, but-naturally-their efforts are inevitably doomed.
Take “Mother Is a Carpegian.” The narrator rails against, and exacts horrible revenge on, a man who has seduced (or that he imagines might seduce) his daughter, as he exhibits a strange fascination with genetics: “I’ve got a daughter and she looks like me/well she oughta, she’s got half of my genes.” This is one seriously deranged individual; the song would be good enough as it is, but then at the end we queasily come to realize that the narrator’s concern for his daughter is not entirely paternal in nature. It’s deadly effective, and illustrates the band’s increasing lyrical sophistication.
Or look at “The Cold House Hymns,” which is pure coal-black Southern Gothic. It begins with the narrator at his birth praying to be able to exact violent Old Testament retribution on his parents: “Let my small hands grow stronger so I may hammer away your wrongs;” and ends with him setting fire to the house in question in an effort at achieving transcendence via immolation: “There’s a fire! There’s a fire in the cold house!/Planks rustle, the windows they crack/The Lord, the Lord bequeathed me a gift/I beg my master to take it back.” Quite potent. Or my favorite, the wonderfully-titled “God Help You Dumb Boy,” in which he rages futilely against his own impotence: “But I can’t load the bullets and I can’t use a gun/I can’t have no children so I can’t have a son/I can’t get up early, so nothing will grow/I’ll lay on my land `til the Sun hangs low/’til the sun hangs low.” It evokes to me the same sense of apocalyptic, eschatological allegory as did “3 Ton Chain” from BRF.
This is just skimming the surface, of course. Some songs are a bit weaker than others, but overall, this is a dense and fascinating album. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next one.