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The Tiger Lillies test their listeners on Lulu: A Murder Ballad
Created by Mister M on 6/17/2014 1:52:50 PM

Mister M reviews Lulu: A Murder Ballad by The Tiger Lillies. 


Adapting satirist Frank Wedekind ‘s “Lulu” plays for Lulu: A Murder Ballad, The Tiger Lillies have made the transition from perverse to squalid. Albums like Bad Blood and Blasphemy, Farmyard Filth and Urine Palace gleefully peered and leered at humanity’s bestial acts. Lulu dares you to enjoy yourself for 74 minutes.

The plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box) follow rise and plummet of the “primal form of woman.” Her father-Fagin Schigolch calls her “Lulu,” but the lovers she takes each call her by a different name. As she climbs the social ladder and descends into prostitution, she inspires a heart attack, suicide, a jailbreak and murder, including her own by Jack the Ripper.

The Tiger Lilles’ version was commissioned by Opera North Projects. Tiger Lillies singer and accordionist Martyn Jacques describes Lulu on their website: "It was hard writing the songs for Lulu. You’re drawn into a very dark place; all the characters around Lulu are grotesque. Shunning is the ‘respectable’ child abuser. Goll is the dirty old man. Schwartz is the gullible artist who has no understanding of her abuse. Alva is the weak, hopeless lover. Jack is the psychopath who horrifically ends her life. Shig is her ‘father’, her family. He could save her but instead sells her to anyone who will pay. So you have to breathe this putrid air. All I can say is I have profound sympathy for the one person who has no choice: Lulu."

Their Lulu is more of a victim than Wedekind’s sexpot. Shig (a rechristened Schigolch) prostitutes his daughter. She gets passed from degradation to degradation. To drive the point home, most of the songs are character sketches about the abusers. For a band that has made a career of being weird, this gets weird in a couple of ways.

Jacques became known for singing his songs of schadenfreude in a falsetto. He has been dubbed the Criminal Castrato. In recent times, he has started to occasionally croak in a rusty hinge voice. Either way, the vocals could test a Tom Waits fan. Jacques bounces between voices within the same song. It’s a bit disorienting and off-putting. There are two songs about the Ripper, “Hey Jack” and “Jack.” Over the course of  “Hey Jack”, Martin Jacques manages to sound like a Monty Python pepperpot old lady, the Cockney Hitcher from the Mighty Boosh and Curly from the Three Stooges. “Jack” sounds like it’s from the perspective of the voices in his head. The band creates the musical equivalent of a heart attack on “Dr. Goll” and a suicide by hanging on “Suicide” (which borrows from their tune “Hell” on Births, Marriages and Deaths).

Unlike the jolly grand guignol of their previous albums, there is no cruel delight here. The Tiger Lillies’ morals have bubbled up to the surface. The grotesques are characters, not caricatures. There is sympathy for Shig in “Daddy.”  He taught Lulu, “There’s no room for sentiment, sentimental crap/When they’re eating you alive in their poverty trap.” In his own way, Shig sets her up for a better situation than he can provide. The bond closes the album with a resigned version of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”

The Tiger Lillies have been making music to squirm to since 1989. Lulu: A Murder Ballad adds to the quarter century of unpleasantness with new level of repulsion: sympathy.

 

Joe “Mr. M” Mason plays theremin and other oddball musical devices in the old-timey mad scientist band The White City Rippers and twangs washtub bass in the steampunk Britney Spears tribute band Spears and Gears. He also spins the amber oldies with the Lords & Ladies DJ crew.

SPC Editor's Note -- The tales of "Lulu" are no strangers to adaption. Notable versions include the 1929 silent film "Pandora's Box" directed by G.W. Pabst and starring Louise Brooks and the regularly revived 1930s opera "Lulu" by Alban Berg.

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