This group's Sub Pop debut is a smarmy cabaret in celebration of life lived in licentious excess. Comprising former members of the VSS, a vein-scraping precursor to "emo" that found a few lucky fans, and then known as the Slaves, Pleasure Forever melds the sperm circus of the Doors, Freddie Mercury's swank flash, a Swans-flavored darkness, and the balls-out smashing panache of the Iggy/Ziggy years. With keys, drums, guitar, and very little else (a bass here and there, a zither) these songs unspool as if from a warped freak-house player piano cranked to 11. Yet instead of spooking us away, the decadent music that rolls out is undeniably infectious.
Conjuring sinister journeys with poetic lyrics sung as if possessed by the glam-rock ghost of a strung-out Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone) circa 1990, Andrew Rothbard (vocals, keys, and bass) wickedly dramatizes these songs as they snake from his snarling maw. Whereas the late Wood wanted the world to commence in an orgy of love, Rothbard hedonistically glorifies infinite extravagance unto death. "Any Port in a Storm" clocks in at 7 minutes, 26 seconds; all those extra minutes give way to garish piano tinklings while Rothbard wails as if he were a mascara-stained, rummy piano player singing love songs like weapons at the whore shooting up in the corner. Melodies sway like a ship on the high seas, only to give way suddenly to the landlocked drama of lines like, "All the things I've lost in search of gold," accompanied by marching snares, trashy cymbals, and creepy calliope. While the pain of that loss is evident, its sacrifice has been worthy of song.
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Other songs, including the seductive farewell of the opening "Goodnight," the eerie "You and I Were Meant to Drown," and the crooning "Curtain Call for a Whispering Ghost," seduce the listener into coming along for the ride. These are songs that work, but when it's all over, you wonder exactly how. So much happens (including convoluted time changes and switchback directions) that you feel pulled at the elbow by a sycophantic host leading you through this snazzy yet nonsensical escapade from which you can't pull away -- and you're not so sure you want to. Midway through you're having a good-enough time to forget or simply disregard the strangeness. And by the end you'll want to listen again to make sure you've heard it all, and ultimately you'll discover you haven't.