Diorama of the Golden Lion is the first full-length album from gimmick-rocker Corn Mo and his band, .357 Lover. It’s full of detailed stories, accordion, glam-rock guitar riffs and They Might Be Giants-esque camp.
The album opens with a solid title-track that starts slowly and mysteriously, scarcely revealing all the jokey music to which you’ll soon be subjected. Not until the album’s final track, “Hava Nagila Monster,” does the .357 Lover comedy reach its full pitch: “The Hava Nagila Monster is coming for us all.” In between the first and fifteenth tracks are some funny moments, some good stories and some cringe-worthy contrivances. The second track, “Nighttime School,” with its complicated structure, intricate lyrics and comically operatic drama, recalls “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The eleventh track, “I’m Sorry,” complete with a soaring melody, Southern-style bluesy guitar riffs and a melodramatic emotional arch, is either a lackluster imitation of Lynyrd Skynyrd or an impressively spot-on rip-off Poison.
The album is unusual enough to win the band some fans. Like Andrew WK. He said, “When I first saw .357 Lover, I thought I was in a dream … and when I first heard them play, I thought I was in heaven. Corn Mo has one of the most beautiful voices and natural charms I’ve ever experienced. He’s a grand man.” In some ways, Andrew WK is right, but the album’s novelty overshadows its quality.
The highlight of the album is Corn Mo’s storytelling ability. His stories focus on the mundane details that most songwriters would probably reject as un-poetic: giving friends wedgies in junior high, eating pizza, cheating on homework in high school, wetting your pants at a skating rink. The stories have a show-not-tell quality that could stand on their own without all the gimmicky affect. The genre-revue and the deliberately humorous melodrama of the music stand in somewhat appealing contrast to the well-grounded lyrics, but those elements are so constant and exaggerated that they demand your attention to the point of interfering with your appreciation of the stories.
A NY Press reviewer said this of one of Corn Mo’s shows: “By the time he was through, I had no idea if Corn Mo was a comic … or a true genius. And I’m still not sure, which gives even more credence to that genius theory.” In listening to the music, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is exactly what .357 Lover wants people to think. The plan seems to be that it’s probably easier to get people to call you a genius if you replace earnestness with camp. That way, if people hate you, you can always just say you were joking.