Thursday, May 30, 2013

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The Tiger Lillies followed Shockheaded Peter, their inspired interpretation of Heinrich Hoffmann's grim cautionary tales for children, with another collaboration that might be even more inspired. The Gorey End uses the mischievous and macabre talents of The Tiger Lillies to interpret previously unpublished stories and poems by like-minded writer/illustrator Edward GoreyThe Kronos Quartet accompanies the trio on these lucky 13 songs, which were originally supposed to be part of a Shockheaded Peter-like theatrical presentation of Gorey's work. The project dates back to 1999, when Gorey, a fan ofShockheaded Peter and The Tiger Lillies' other projects, sent Martyn Jaques a box full of his newest writing. Jaques was working on the songs and was about to travel to the U.S. to play them for Goreywhen Gorey died of a heart attack in 2000 at age 75. Though Terry Gilliam expressed interest in directing the theatrical piece (what an event that would have been!), he was too busy; however, The Tiger Lillies didn't want to abandon the songs, so they and The Kronos Quartet recorded The Gorey End. Eventually, the album's release spawned a revue that played London's Lyric Hammersmith in 2003 and mixed The Tiger Lillies' songs with readings of some of Gorey's best-known works, including The Chinese Obelisks, The Curious Sofa, and The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a story of gruesome childhood deaths that recalls Shockheaded Peter. While there are similarities between Shockheaded Peter and The Gorey End, the newer album isn't as wild and freewheeling, despite a body count that is nearly as high as the older album's. Befitting the Victorian and early 20th century milleu of Gorey's work, The Tiger Lillies' and The Kronos Quartet music tends toward the stately and subdued, the kind of thing you'd expect to hear in the study or drawing room of one of the elaborate mansions in which Gorey's characters reside. At times, it's almost too subdued, as on "The Learned Pig," a song so serene that it understates its tale of a pig who learns to read and speak, becomes a fairground star, and is done in by a pack of its own kind. To the musicians' credit, however, they don't try to be overly quirky in their interpretations of Gorey's decidedly whimsical work. Indeed, songs like "Besotted Mother" -- the story of a woman so devoted to her child that she dresses her head-to-toe in white rabbit fur, with dire consequences -- and "Trampled Lily" are downright elegant. Even The Gorey End's more upbeat songs, such as "ABC," an alphabetical waltz of dreadful things ("A is for Arsenic someone thought fun/To include on the icing on top of a bun"), and "QRV," an ode to a sinister miracle substance, tend to be more sprightly than silly. The Kronos Quartetshines on "Weeping Chandelier," a zippy tango about a girl and her trained bats, and on the wonderful "Dreadful Domesticity," where their tremolo strings and soaring cellos add to the creepy atmosphere of this tale of a murderously dissatisfied couple. Indeed, the only drawbacks to The Gorey End are that its liner notes don't have any corresponding Gorey illustrations (although pictures from some of his older works are used), and, more importantly, that Gorey didn't get to hear how creatively and reverently The Tiger Lillies and The Kronos Quartet adapted his writing.


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