The Lemon of Pink
ith The Lemon of Pink, The Books continue to redefine the criteria for affecting music. Their astonishing debut, Thought for Food, was notable for its originality, but not in the traditional sense of the word. The album’s sample-based nature had been heard before; none of the ingredients were new – what was new was the way in which they were pieced together to form something poignant (not cerebral). The Books’ ingenuity stems from their ability to take a few austere samples and combine them in a way that inexplicably, but unmistakably, moves listeners.
The Lemon of Pink continues in the same vein as Thought for Food, with a few notable differences, but a similarly excellent result. The most prominent difference is The Lemon of Pink’s relative cohesiveness (when compared to Thought for Food’s many shifts and detours). The album has an undisturbed flow, which comes as a huge advancement from Thought for Food. Here, the songs seem conceptually linked, rather than appearing a sundry assortment of odd experiments.
In addition, Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong constitute more of a band this time around, with samples often being rejected in favor of live vocals or instruments. However, this does not make as much of a difference as one might guess, as any of The Lemon of Pink’s songs could find a place on Thought for Food, even if they operate best together.
In hindsight, Thought for Food was an extremely inconsistent album in terms of song quality. Although it managed to consistently engage listeners as a result of its aforementioned originality, there were perhaps three or four truly great songs on the entire album. Conversely, The Lemon of Pink offers many individually rewarding songs (although none as spectacular as Thought for Food’s “Enjoy Your Worries, You May Never Have Them Again”).
The title track opens the album on a high point, with the usual Books elements (vocal samples, banjo, guitar) coming together marvelously as the line “We went through hell” stands above the rest of the song’s ingredients and marks its pending descent. The opener flows into its second part as a female voice intones the album’s title, and soon a bizarre violin briefly joins a guitar before the album kicks in with “Tokyo”’s shining glory.
The Books’ true skill lies in the assembling of their songs, and three pieces on The Lemon of Pink display their irrefutable brilliance when it comes to structure. “Tokyo” begins with a brightly skittering mix of guitar and electronics and hits full force as a cello digs in just for a moment before the song dissipates into tranquil beauty. “There Is No There” is equally convincing, taking a standard electronic melody and following every unimaginable route before concluding (how else?) with a fast-paced banjo solo. “That Right Ain’t Shit”, oddly (but wonderfully) placed near the album’s end, is sensational for its increasingly intense climaxes and releases, which never sound tired - as build-and-release formulas tend to - but instead make you wish the song were more danceable so you could move along to its many beautiful shifts and rises.
In my review of Thought for Food, I extolled “A Dead Fish Gains the Power of Observation” and “Deafkids” as the perfectly enigmatic closers for such an unusual album. This was true, but “That Right Ain’t Shit” and “PS” surpass those two in finishing The Lemon of Pink, providing first a gorgeous closer, which consummates everything the rest of the album has to offer, and second, a charmingly awkward post-script of well, charmingly awkward conversation between a man and a woman.
Honestly, I can think of few albums more perfectly structured than The Lemon of Pink, and far fewer that end as nicely. Although The Lemon of Pink has its share of not-so-great tracks, it, unlike Thought for Food, manages to make them essential parts of a conceptual whole. In this sense, The Lemon of Pink surmounts its predecessor. However, despite its improvements, The Lemon of Pink is largely rooted in Thought for Food’s brilliant ideas and therefore cannot accurately be called its superior. Perhaps if The Lemon of Pink had come first, it would be regarded as a classic. As it is, it’s an excellent follow-up to a brilliant album, one that will disappoint few fans and likely draw many new ones.
Reviewed by: Kareem Estefan
Reviewed on: 2003-10-10