Previous albums by these Northwest mofos have seen them taking a more knockabout approach, but Strangest Parade, their latest, is a much more dressed-up -- and consequently less mundane -- affair. A "concept" album that works like a suite in 13 parts, it's reminiscent of such swirling pop masterpieces as the Kinks' Arthur. The basic story line is no more cohesive than Ray Davies' epic: Renegade son sees dad on his deathbed and develops a strong Messiah complex. Toss in a carrot or two and it could easily be Nick Cave's outline for The Ass Saw the Angel. Toss in a mariachi band and a girl named Maria and it could be Bruce Springsteen (or U2).
Which is just another way of saying that, with Strangest Parade, the Makers have finally created an album that demands to be taken seriously: Tracks whistle with Dylanesque organ alternating with arch-dramatic slashes of guitar (think Born to Run) and female backing vocals. This may be the boldest retro-'70s statement yet, but the more grandiose side of the '70s (and '80s) that indie rockers usually ignore: Springsteen, Queen, 10cc, the Boomtown Rats, Tom Petty, the Cure, the inevitable Cave. Similar to the unsettling Pleasure Forever album that came out on Sub Pop last year -- which was also somewhat of a "suite"-- the Makers are decidedly more mature and slightly more decadent than their immediate peers.
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A perfect example is "Addicted to Dying," which is a maddening flail of strenuous guitar, bass, and drum alchemy that surges through intense crescendos -- including Freddie Mercury-style operatics and Alice Cooper mock-West Side Story dramatics. It's followed by "Suicide Blues," which is the best self-conscious kiss-off since Stiv Bators wailed "This Is the Last Year of My Life" and then made that macabre prophecy come true. But the good thing about the Makers is that there's always the hint of redemption in all of this depressive scum-wallowing, a fact proven by the whimsical final track, "Whole Wide World of Girls," which is a semiacoustic number that sees the group finally taking on more earthly concerns. It sounds like the Stones, or the Stones via the Brian Jonestown Massacre, just in case anyone got the wrong idea that these hipsters actually were "classic rock."