THE BOOKS: THE LEMON OF PINK (2003)
1) The Lemon Of Pink; 2) The Lemon Of Pink; 3) Tokyo; 4) Bonanza; 5) S Is For Evrysing; 6) Explanation Mark; 7) There Is No There; 8) Take Time; 9) Don't Even Sing About It; 10) The Future, Wouldn't That Be Nice; 11) A True Story Of A Story Of True Love; 12) That Right Ain't Shit; 13) PS.
Hello and welcome to today's edition of «No Bull Session With Big Daddy». In the news: The Books release a follow-up to their critically appraised debut, Thought For Food. Called The Lemon Of Pink, it is one minute shorter, but one track longer than its predecessor, and continues in the same direction. This makes it, once more, an excellent target for our program.
A lot of reviews and evaluations of the album use different words to paraphrase more or less the same conclusion: «a chaotic jumble that should be a complete wreck, but somehow, for some reason, it works». Each time I read something of the kind, I want to turn into a little tick and crawl inside that particular person's ear — no, not to eat his brains out (although that might be an option), but simply to witness his true reaction to a Books album. Because the nagging question is: what works? What kind of gold mine are these guys working on that remains inaccessible to us outsiders?.. Could you be more specific? In fact, could you be more specific?
That said, let us be just. The Lemon Of Pink is a bit less extremist and a bit more musical than Thought For Food. The samples are still at the forefront of everything, but there are now tracks like ʽTokyoʼ, where an actual acoustic melody — and a pretty one, too — runs over its entire length, while Japanese stewardesses welcome you on the flight and off it. The main theme of ʽTake Timeʼ may even be memorable, with the valuable help of the pendulum chorus ("take – time, take – time..."). And there are bits of impressive acoustic playing scattered here and there all over the place, particularly on the second half of the album.
This all makes The Lemon Of Pink sound like a rather vapid, distraught jam session played by a couple of professional musicians that just got together to fight boredom on a lazy, hot summer day. Pile some speech samples on top of it, and whoops, you got yourself an art statement. Take away the samples, and you get back your lazy distraught session. I just keep vacillating between rational hatred for the former and friendly indifference towards the latter.
The little speech-filled links are friendlier and funnier this time, though. ʽBonanzaʼ is a bunch of chopped up, mumbled phrases in an unrecognizable language (Dutch?), recited by a toothless old man; ʽExplanation Markʼ sounds like several over-imposed phonetic lessons; and ʽPSʼ finishes the album with a recording of several people preparing to start something potentially important, but always failing due to uncontrollable giggle attacks. While it's all silly, it at least sounds friendly and even «cute», which might be a starting point for liking the whole thing.
Alas, even if the record succeeds in not generally breeding negative emotions, it still never gets anywhere beyond «cuddly». Tracks like ʽThe Futureʼ and a few others occasionally sound close to The Beta Band — lulling, melancholic singing to folksy acoustic patterns that may, at any time, be interrupted by a heavy whack on the head with a frying-pan or your local rose-colored alien friend whizzing by in his flying saucer. But the Betas had the will to transform these psycho-folk vibes into actual songs, whereas the Books seem determined to put a totalitarian stop to these vile, commercial, intellectually insulting cravings.
With ʽTake Timeʼ and ʽTokyoʼ, their noble goal is almost ruined, because there are two or three things I still manage to remember about these tracks. Elsewhere, they are more successful. But if you are into The Books at all, you should be into hardcore — compared to Thought For Food, The Lemon Of Pink is a fucking sellout. As a pleasant collection of songs, it fails; as an artistic statement, it adds little to its predecessor; as a user-friendly sonic environment celebrating the simple joys of Planet Earth, it probably works best when your name is Major Tom, and you cannot hear me. Thumbs down either way.