Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A jester with angst

Aqueduct
Or Give Me Death
Score: 8

Kanye didn't know how good he had it.

His girl might've been a gold digger, but at least she wasn't digging his grave.

David Terry, the man behind Aqueduct, needs to have a talk with his sweetie.

"You say you're not after my money / but lately you've been acting funny / planning my funeral, choosing my coffin," he muses on "You'll Get Yours." The kicker comes when he deadpans, "The black one's nice, but the gray one's fantastic."

With inspired orchestration and more hooks than a pirate party, Or Give Me Death goes for the funny bone often, and it often succeeds.

The Postal Service pop of "Broken Records" seems straight until Terry suddenly switches to vocoder to close out the first chorus.

"Keep It Together," by contrast, lets you know upfront that it wants to play. The cheesy, buoyant synths bring to mind characters running in place or in slow motion on some '70s cop show.

Droll humor abounds in the faux murder ballad (and "The Princess Bride"-referencing) "As You Wish." Mariachi horns serenade until a marching band tempo shoves them off the stage. The persistently peppy snare makes it the most upbeat song about a killer since The Beatles were cracking noggins with "Maxwell's Silver Hammer."

Terry sets up his vocals so that they counterpoint: one soft and melodic, the other boisterous and discordant. The off-key one is dominant, casually mentioning, "I'll probably kill you in the morning." The other is submissive, with its repetition of "Please" and "As you wish." Later on, the threat changes to "I'll kill you in the morning," and that's followed by a four-part description of how. Of course, before this development, the killer expresses a hankering for Reese's peanut butter cups.

Humor is a tricky thing. Certainly not everyone would find "As You Wish" amusing. Terry even has a song on Or Give Me Death that addresses this fact from a different angle. "Just the Way I Are" casts him as a misunderstood joker. "It's easygoing sarcasm, don't get me wrong, girl," he sings. "My heart is in the right place / but sometimes it's off course."

He recalls times when his goofing around irritated her, for example, asking, "What if we got stuck like this forever?" while they were holding hands. The track hops along with a "Wizard of Oz"-like glee, which underscores the contrary chorus: "It's not the way I am / it's just the way I are" (a sentiment that's more Scarecrow than Tin Man). In the end, he wants to be true to himself but not lose her affection because of it.

Tone goes a long way toward revealing Terry's intentions. If isolated, the lyrics would give the album an entirely different character. Many point to depression, frustration and cynicism. "Keep It Together" includes the line "People never change -- bitch, don't even try." On "Lying in the Bed I've Made," it's "I might be lonely all my life." The pop-punk "Living a Lie," which jumps out of the gates with a formidable riff, advises "It's not living a lie if you're not living at all." But the upbeat music begs to differ.

If life throws you lemons, laugh at them.


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