Devil’s Music starts with the twenty-five second “Bukowski,” which is just a quote directly from the titular writer. In an augmented and vocoderized vocal he utters, “I was laying in bed one night and I thought ‘I’ll just quit — to hell with it.’ And another little voice inside me said ‘Don’t quit — save that tiny little ember of spark.’ And never give them that spark because as long as you have that spark, you can start the greatest fire again.” Admittedly, it’s a pretty perfect sentiment with which to start any creative endeavor. Unfortunately, it ends up being something of an odd fit when paired up with the typified output of Teddy Bears latest album.
Given how generally safe and processed it all comes across, Devil’s Music is something of an ironic title for Swedish beat makers Teddy Bears’ sixth LP. It’s not that Teddy Bears have spent their careers being envelope pushers, but unless the contradiction is intentional (the jury is still out on that), it all seems a bit like posturing. Though, how much can you hold an album’s title against it, really? Ultimately and obviously, the music is the impetus for any real judgment on a piece of work. And the bottom line with Devil’s Music is how it begins and ends with a strong sense of itself, but spends most of the meat of the album fucking about, catering to an idea of eclectic popism that only comes across about half as well as Teddy Bears think it does. It makes the LP something of a frustrating affair, but one that does have genuine moments of diligent creativity, and earned satisfaction.
As with any Teddy Bears release, this is all meant to be a sort of pastiche; lots of genre jumping, lots of smooth transitions, lots of hooky goodness mixed with a plethora of guest stars and vocalists. And, as a foundation, this method is sound enough. The Teddy Bears’ prodigious talents behind the boards aren’t really in question. The group’s grindcore roots have always given their output a sloppy mood that is admittedly charming, if not deceptively cloying at times. The slick techno with those slithering bass lines and just processed enough percussion; it’s the kind of starting point that they have always layered upon to varying degrees of success. Devil’s Music is less interested in atmosphere, though, saving its more cohesive moments for an oddly placed, strictly musical intermission/interlude (“Glow in the Dark”), and the album’s bracing, wordless epilogue “Cisum Silved.”
Obvious highlights come when heavy hitters like Robyn, Cee Lo, and Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips show up. Given the collaborative and creative successes that Teddy Bears have shared with Robyn in the past, “Cardiac Arrest” is a little light weight, and slightly underwhelming by proxy. Though, as is the case with anything she appears on, Robyn owns the track in a way uniquely to her, elevating some of the bland composition with her vocal flashiness and cocksure swagger. Cee Lo’s track “Cho Cha” pairs him up winningly with the B-52’s in a funky little post-disco romp about a kitty cat, complete with meowing sound cues and everything; not to mention a hook that has no earthly reason being as perfect as it is. “Crystal Meth Christians” takes its obvious cues from the post rock of the Lips, but carefully constructs an attractive pop backdrop that would seem busy if not anchored by the tongue in cheek, and as usually enrapturing vocal work of Coyne.
So, make no mistake, there is fun to be had with Devil’s Music. However, there is also an unintentional underlying mood of boredom that permeates more of the album than can be ignored. The album can be kind of obnoxious at times, and loud for the sake of it. But then it will confound with how well it coalesces its popish chops with eccentric surrealism and stellar beat making. More than anything, though, the album has you returning to that opening quote, wondering if it is supposed to be a mission statement for the album, or a lamentation for what it should have been.