|Personnel: Jeremy Enigk (vocals, guitar, harp, piano, harpsichord, drums); Jeni Foster (harp); Carlos Flores, Ken Wright (violin); Sam Williams , Felicia McFall (viola); Joe Bichsel (cello); Robert Newland, Laura Sperling (flute, piccolo); Greg Lyons (trumpet); Chris Stover (trombone); Fred Hawkinson (bass trombone); Beverly Reese (glockenspiel, percussion); Anna Doak (upright bass); William Goldsmith (drums).
|Great surprise. Return of the Frog Queen comes out of nowhere, in no way the follow-up to Jeremy Enigk's two previous LPs with Sunny Day Real Estate. Enigk chooses a really remarkable path, taking his highly dramatic, angst-ridden singing to a totally new sound. Now he favors harshly played acoustics. Way more surprising, Enigk lassos a whole orchestra to flesh out the background of each song! Enigk still screams like the abandoned child of Plastic Ono Band Lennon and "Heart Shaped Box" Cobain, a real shake-up. Likewise, his orchestra has equally dangerous intents. The most startling musical moment of all 1996 is the second half of the otherwise buried "Shade and the Black Hat," where the pent-up frustration inherent in this whole LP is suddenly let loose like Enigk were the delirious keeper of Pandora's box. He pounds a piano and howls like his wife just left him for his best friend, as the violins, violas, and cellos scrape at their strings as if to break them, and the flutes, piccolos, trumpets, trombones, French horns, and clarinets blow like they were hired by a wolf to blast a few recalcitrant pigs' houses down. The waves of classical countermelodies are extraordinary, adding on to each other to create an "1812 Overture" anvil clarion call, a roar so dense, so overpowering, it's like gasoline exploding, even more so as they back Enigk's fevered wail as if he were long past desperation. There are many other smaller, striking moments -- many far sweeter, too, though always tempered by Enigk's dark voice -- found throughout the LP, such as the chorus of "Carnival," where the man and his players turn positively paranoid to the suddenly depraved strains of circus sounds. The overall songwriting is superb, too. A truly remarkable work that has done the unthinkable, Frog Queen breaks new ground yet remains a direct hit, with the passion, power, and rage of punk; the simple, appealing babbling of folk; and even the multidimensional, nasty din of modern Russian classical. Wow. ~ Jack Rabid