According to a friend of mine, the most depressing song ever recorded is Wham!’s 1984 hit, “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”. Remember the male-model gasoline fight in Zoolander? Yeah. That song. His reasoning behind this statement was that one could never achieve the level of jubilation that Wham! evidently feels. Hence, upon this realization, the listener will feel sad, defeated, and depressed… I’m beginning to think that Cameron’s more of a “glass is half empty” kind of guy. That aside, he has a point. Every once in a while, I stumble across certain artists or songs that are deceptively happy at first appearance. Upon closer inspection, however, the lyrics reveal that the subject matter is quite dismal; in stark contrast to its cheery instrumentation. Case and point is Page France and the Family Telephone.
Page France is a band that has become known for their contagious joyful music. In past efforts, the lyrics have reflected the emotion brought on by the instrumentation. Telephone though, finds vocalist, Michael Nau, displaying some, hitherto absent, honesty. It seems as though he struggles with the idea of being something that he is not. “A lying man's only as good as he can fake” he sings on “A Joker’s Joke”. He seems like he would like to forgo his cheery presence and write something more sincere; “I would kiss the devil’s cheek to get this halo off of me” (“Ruby Ring Man”). On occasion, it’s somewhat difficult to tell what Nau is trying to say. His masterful metaphors are widely open to interpretation. He refers to himself as a beggar, a rabbit in a magician’s hat, and a “stage-fright comedian”, among other things. However, he clears the matter up on “A Belly to the Sea” over an contrasting up-tempo drumbeat: “I told a lie and someone bought… I’m so fake”.
Enough about the analysis (no one cares about that). How is it? Nau has a slightly nasally approach to his vocals, but he pulls it off well. Especially when cute-as-a-button, Whitney McGraw is sweetly singing her complimenting harmonies. The frequent use of glockenspiel, piano, mandolin, etc, is usually upbeat and smile inducing, while the cryptic, surreal lyrics are often thought inducing. Good combo. The record moves through the first half of the songs surprisingly swiftly. As Telephone wears on, however, everything tends to blend together. The tracks lose differentiability and boredom creeps up on the wandering mind. Attempts are made to mix things up a little (the excellent “The Joker’s Joke” does so at just the right time), but it seems futile in the end. This fact is further helped along by Nau’s heavy use of reoccurring themes throughout (beggers, rabbits, eyes in the sky, blue eyes, crookedness, etc). These themes are explained on the last track, “Casting Day”; “Thank you all/ For taking me so seriously/ For coming along with me/ Through my hat and rabbit dream”. While I like seeing a well-planned album, there’s such a thing as tying your songs together too much. The style not only lacks variation from track to track, but also from album to album, as this material is strikingly similar to past releases.
The lyrics are extremely clever and seemingly well thought out (while borderline weird and whimsical), and the music is an almost saccharine breath of fresh air. Alas, the freshness can only last so long and it grows stale – though not enough to ruin this excellent release. While Page France and the Family Telephone has its flaws, it’s still more than worth checking out. There’s hardly a band out there that will make you feel happier. That is, unless you’re my friend, Cam.