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Abby Travis | Cutthroat Standards and Black Pop | review | rock | Lollipop
Cutthroat Standards & Black Pop (Educational)
by Jamie Kiffel
Razors, KMFDM, oiled guns, deranged ringmasters, Burt Bacharach. Which of these doesn't belong? Trick question - they all belong, if you're Abby Travis, former sexy nurse from KMFDM and musician for Beck, Elastica, and The Meat Puppets. Travis has launched out on her own, and presents Cutthroat Standards & Black Pop, a clever Goth joke with Marlene Dietrich as its butt.
Low and lascivious, Travis croons over seductively innocuous instrumentals. But lean closer to the speakers, and don't get your head sliced by Travis' forked tongue in your ear. Read off the page, lyrics like "Under my door there came an invitation: 'Won't you attend your own assassination?'" (from "Have I Got a Deal For You") could be straight-up Goth, even Baudelarian. But paired with Travis's syrup-deep, throaty, almost charming delivery they become a subtle snicker. After all, any non-German speaker listening to Dietrich for the first time can't help imagining she's saying something very dark and insidious. Travis did. She even sings a verse in German to drive home the joke.
It's noteworthy that, taken without their nightclub tunes, the lyrics are beautifully rhythmic. Sung as cabaret, however, they trade all seriousness for the shocking goof of sentimental violins backing lines like "Bring me the poison that rots in the vein... Now that the warden's locked the children in the closet, when they're weak enough, the screaming's gonna stop." A sweet clavichord synth sheds humorously misplaced light on dungeon lyrics.
"Hangover Flower" is a standout tune, with the lyric, "petals fall like drum sticks on a snare/ My hangover flower is in bloom yet again." This could almost be a 1900 ad for opiates... but sillier. "Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun" is another charmer, with the lyric, "I'd point it at your arms, and I'd make you wrap 'em 'round me/ I'd point it at your lips and I'd make you need me... and wouldn't we be happy?" Sung like a 1940s nightclub torch song, at first listen, this is almost moving. If you're Medusa. The final song, "The Hate Song," should join the ranks of such beloved collegiate hits as "Fuck Everybody" and "I Suck." "You putrid weasels think you're fucking great," Travis sings in a voice suddenly like Joan Jett. Her back-up really drives it home, however: sweet, soprano "Fuck fuck fuck"s. The only moment on the disc that I hate is track 13: twenty minutes of an aimless madrigal. If you don't want to lose your mind, turn off the CD player before it starts.
If this disc were human, it would be the love child of Danny Elfman and Burt Bacharach, wearing a sequined dinner dress to mask a serpent tail. Pop this in the stereo when your older relatives come for holiday dinner, and let them wonder why you recorded Marilyn Manson on the flipside.
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