The group’s colourful alt-pop has started to dull on their tenth LP.
Rob Webb 2010
The garish collage that comprises the cover of the tenth of Montreal album offers a pretty accurate appraisal of its sonic palette. Although always a fairly outlandish songwriter, mainman Kevin Barnes' increasingly erratic stylistic twists have taken a turn for the even weirder on False Priest, leaving it a listen that will test the patience of all but OM's staunchest fans.
Stated to be the third record in a trilogy that began with 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, False Priest certainly touches on the same themes as Fauna... and 2008's Skeletal Lamping (chiefly sex, love and, um, psychology). But the novelty factor of the group’s colourful alt-pop – with less emphasis here on the "alt" – has unfortunately started to wane.
Over-familiarity with Barnes' recent oeuvre aside, the material on False Priest just isn't as strong as the songs that comprise those other records. Whilst on the surface this would appear to be the most collaborative of Montreal LP yet – co-producer Jon Brion (Dido, Kanye West, Keane) shares instrumental duties with Barnes, and pop divas Solange Knowles and Janelle Monáe contribute backing vocals – the concept of the 'band' is sounding increasingly like a vehicle for its singer's ego.
That might sound a little harsh, but there are a few moments here that are genuinely cringe-worthy. The screeching falsetto that propels the Prince-aping I Feel Ya' Strutter, for instance, renders that track an instant Marmite cut and practically unlistenable to these ears. Would-be-epic closer You Do Mutilate? harbours such couplets as "Whatcha want / Somebody who'll salute your kindness? / Salute your Busta Rhymness", while Barnes’ sing-speak on Our Riotous Defects is awash with meaningless platitudes: "I did everything I could to make you happy / I participated in all your protests / Supported your stupid little blog, got a Bowflex". Sonically, too, the banks of synths and layered vocals sound like a desperate attempt to compete with big contemporary pop records.
It was always of Montreal's refusal to comply with the status quo, to make their own take on outsider-pop, that was one of their most attractive qualities. Here, they come off sounding like a poor man's Scissor Sisters and even the Knowles/Monáe numbers and Coquette Coquette, which are the record's only real successes, aren't enough to mitigate its mediocrity.