Nobody likes to throw around terms like “criminally underappreciated” and “under the radar” more than rock critics, but it’s impossible to talk about the Green Pajamas without bringing those hoary old terms into play. Singer/songwriter Jeff Kelly has been leading the Seattle-based band since 1984 (not counting an early-’90s sabbatical during which he worked as a solo artist), turning out an endless stream of enchanting albums that feed on the spirit of ’60s psychedelia but always remain decidedly contemporary. The Pajamas are the kind of band that has long seemed ripe for a renaissance, maybe some flavor-of-the-moment artist going public with a deep Pajamas fixation, the sort of thing that would lend the group some hip cache. But it never seems to happen. After all these years, they remain, to use another well-worn phrase, a well-kept secret.
The fact that the Green Pajamas, in the face of such adversity, have soldiered on through the decades, maintaining their spark and turning out great albums every step of the way, seems like it should justify some kind of award. For the savvy few who’ve been paying attention, they’ve done it again on Poison in the Russian Room. There appears to be some kind of loose concept at work on the album, as it’s divided into two discreet halves with different subtitles — something to do with a fairy queen or something — but who really ever cares what a concept album is supposedly “about” anyway? What matters is the music, and the tunes here — mostly written by Kelly, with a couple of nice turns by bandmate Eric Lichter — don’t disappoint.
Kelly’s voice and songwriting both strike the perfect balance of mystery and emotion; it’s not always clear exactly what he’s singing about, but it almost always makes you feel something. The melodies are as elegant as ever, colored by the psychedelic flavors that have been in the band’s arsenal since the beginning; backward loops and McCartneyesque bass lines are not in short supply.
But while it would be convenient to make the claim that this is the Pajamas album to end all Pajamas albums, the one that seems likely to finally pierce the public’s veil of indifference, it’s just not true. In the end, Poison in the Russian Room is another solid album from a band that’s never made a misstep, its very consistency perversely making each successive sonic feat seem that much less remarkable than the last. Another new Pajamas album? For those who know the difference, it seems almost a given at this point that it’s bound to be good. And unfortunately, those who don’t know the difference will likely remain blissfully ignorant. In other words, when you’re this good for this long, it gets harder and harder to convince people that it’s not as easy as you make it look. It’s not easy being Green, but thank God they still are.