splendid > reviews > 4/15/2002
Pedro the Lion
Pedro the Lion
Jade Tree

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Options"

Buy me now
From the group's photographic tour journal, you get a good idea why Pedro the Lion enjoys repeated artistic success. Instead of a preoccupation with stage shots, or brooding grimaces, the tour journal mostly provides snapsots of cities and small towns that would interest anyone in love with expression and the poetry of life. There are outhouse urinals, half-empty pans of lasagna, fields of wheat, freeze-framed clocks, declarations from churches' strange bulletin board poets ("Forbidden fruit makes many jams"), and all the bridges that likeminded artists built to bring disparate cities of truth together.

From a spiritual perspective, the only boundary placed upon Pedro the Lion is whether a feeling or thought is rendered honestly. Aesthetically, this places singer/songwriter David Bazan alongside artists like Elizabeth Elmore, Pierce Pettis, Bobby Wratten, Bob Mould, Mark Heard and Paul Westerberg -- all of whom are willing to examine their lives in their raw totality. As Bazan is labelled a Christian artist by both fans and foes, it should be acknowledged I see him that way too. He qualifies as a Christian artist even when he cusses (as in the closing "Rejoice") or brings "rapture" to adultery ("This is how we multiply / Pity that it's not my wife"), because his music is only inspired by his passionate visions of the reality he sees. When the philosophies of his characters escape me ("I could never divorce you / Without a good reason / And though I may never have to / It's good to have options"), it only reinforces the truthfulness of his music -- who knows or understands anyone completely?

Control stands apart from previous Pedro the Lion releases because its harder material is among its most satisfying. "Rapture" will most likely remain the best sex song of the year, with guitars dishing out the sweat and physicality of lust as the lyrics merge the actions of soul and pecker ("Gideon is in the drawer / Clothes scattered on the floor / She's arching her back / She screams for more / Oh sweet rapture! / I hear Jesus / Calling me home"). If there's a moral center behind it, it's intentionally unclear, because the song's action takes place at the height of the act rather than during its guilt-ridden aftermath. Bazan's greatest work ("Rapture"; "Priests/Paramedics"; "Progress") has begun to merit comparisons to the best songwriters of the day, but it's often the music that tells the story, not the words. "Penetration" ("Have you ever seen an idealist with gray hairs on his head / Or successful men who keep in touch with unsuccessful friends / You only think you did") lyrically distracts, because its questions unfairly group together people who act and function on entirely different wavelengths. Through its music, however, the song's meaning is clear, simple and universal: we aren't the greatest people, and can be as tiresome as squirrels.

I don't think there's anyone alive who could truly find fault with that conclusion; it's the sort of honesty that deserves a wide audience. Frankly, I hope that Bazan is rewarded with lots of myrrh for this record, because I want a thousand more songs from him. I want to sing along with more grim choruses ("You're gonna die / We're all gonna die"), and hear the word "metaphysical" thrown around correctly, and always know, in at least one record a year, that my concept of a "Christian" artist -- one who speaks truthfully and from the heart -- will include an artist who's also Christian in the traditional sense of the word.



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