May 25, 2004
PEDRO THE LION [I]ACHILLES HEEL[/I] REVIEW
There are two things which are invariably brought up when reviewing a record from Pedro the Lion. The first is the Christian beliefs of Pedro's alter ego David Bazan, and the second is “Why is this considered punk?” The second needs little explanation; Pedro the Lion is fundamentally a solo project with minimal instrumentation and that instrumentation that does exist is typically a guitar and drums accompanied by lethargic vocals; whether it is “punk” or not seems fairly irrelevant because if you enjoy his records, as I do, you will invariably find some way to make him “punk” and if you don't like his material you will dismiss it as not. Eye of the beholder and all that...
The other topic of discussion is Bazan's Christianity; and while he is an open and unapologetic Christian, his beliefs figure into his songwriting in a perfectly natural way; he isn't trying to convert anyone and he outright loathes so-called Christian rock, so it bears little importance in examining his music, or his latest record Achilles Heel.
This latest record, and his fourth (of sorts) for Jade Tree finds Pedro the Lion returning to the lyrical foundation of its first full length, It's Hard to Find a Friend. It eschews the high brow concepts of Control and Winners Never Quit for a deeply personal outing. Gone is Control's boisterous drumming and more rock-oriented feel, Achilles' finds an even more melancholy and minimalist musician.
Sadly, the lack of concept has led to one of the more inconsistent records from Pedro The Lion as well. While Control was the most fully realized concept in terms of both lyrics and songwriting, this record finds the band putting both it's best and weakest tracks simultaneously to tape. Some of the tracks, like the positively chilling “Transcontinental“, deliver some of the most painful and visceral lyrics to date, while others, like the record opener ”Bands With Managers“ is merely adequate.
Still, one of the strongest points about the new record is that unlike past efforts where morose lyrics were accompanied by equally morose music, here, the most morbid and crushing lyrics are coupled with upbeat melodies; this sharp contrast makes the lyrics even more poignant and shows a unique ability to wring completely unique emotions out of the audience.
But in the end, while there is significant growth in the arrangements of the tracks, Bazan occasionally resorts to heavy handed and awkward lyrical and musical turns. Some of the tracks are positively brilliant, like ”A Simple Plan“ and especially the brutal and beautiful ”The Poison“ which contains probably the best written and best delivered lyrics of Pedro's near decade of output. Achilles is a challenging and progressive reimaginging, and while this record isn't all brilliance, it's still a powerful and memorable record and absolutely worth your time.
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