As the hipster hangover of this decade sets in, the disparity between groups driven to push their music and those bound to fashion continues to grows. What started as a catchy movement evoking the spirits of our indie and new-wave heroes from such groups as the Gang of Four and the Smiths now needs to grow legs. As groups such as the Killers, the Stills and Elefant step away from their critically acclaimed debuts, only time will tell what side of the musical spectrum (image or substance?) they call home.
With its sophomore release, The Black Magic Show, the sustainability of New York’s Elefant is first up on the chopping block. The group’s debut, 2003’s Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid not only sparked a warm buzz, but it also laid the fruitful ground work for what would be Elefant’s self-owned label, Kemado Records. Three years later and with support from pop-friendly Hollywood Records, it’s clear that Diego Garcia and the boys of Elefant are making a bid for commercial success.
The Black Magic Show is lofty in its attempts at furthering Elefant’s monopoly on the relatively untapped Morrissey sound box. From the album’s opening track, “Black Magic Show (Introducing),” to the heavily advertised single, “Lolita,” through the remaining nine songs, Garcia and company use nearly every rock cliché. Unfortunately it comes off sounding too much like all the other shows vying for our attention. The guitar work is straight out of the Velvet Underground/Television songbook, and the production begs for comparisons to the Strokes or Interpol. That’s not to say being compared to these folks is bad, it’s just that those comparisons don’t reveal how unimaginative The Black Magic Show really is.
What made an impact on its debut was Elefant’s ability to make even the most delicate Morrissey-style songs come off as legitimate rockers — the kind of songs that tattooed bikers and girls covered in Prada could agree on. That’s what’s missing from The Black Magic Show, and it’s ultimately the album’s downfall. Elefant’s music should stand taller than the members’ extremely stylish demeanor, but The Black Magic Show reveals that it’s all smoke and mirrors.
Hollywood Records Web site