Penguin Prison - Penguin Prison Album Review
Pop. It's an odd kingdom at the bets of times. It has Kings and Queens, Princesses and Plantagenets. The currency is youth and it's always had a language completely of its own making. Just lately though, something's been wrong in paradise; in its purest form, as an outlet for hormonal teenage angst and general backdrop to mass consumerism, pop music is undoubtedly terminally ill. The reasons for this are complex, but superficially at least the symptoms are things like having icons which are now mostly plucked from talent shows, their dubious talents co-opted by the time the show has even reached its overwrought conclusion. At the other side of the rainbow, those in the house of the credible are by contrast only too anxious to avoid reminders of their stage school history and trust fund backing. The inevitable conclusion is that the chances of you or I going from singing into a hairbrush to a million dollar contract are pretty obviously non-existent, talent and independent minds a mere complicated sideline.
New Yorker Chris Glover is clearly well schooled in the machinations of the pop game, having been chewed up - and spat out - by the industry on several prior occasions, via minor collaborations with Alicia Keys and a stint in a failed boy band with an unlikely sounding name. One way or another then homework has definitely been done regarding the history of his chosen profession, and with his latest project Penguin Prison he seems intent on delivering on the promise in a try, try again way.
I say homework because Glover spent the period in which most jilted performers would've spent licking their wounds locating the essence of his chosen field as it was in the 1980's, the pop movement's last stand at an apex of cultural dominance. His eponymous album bottles trace elements of Michael Jackson, Morten Harket and Madonna in equal measure - all in their pomp - and then adds a sophisticated layer of contemporary programmed sheen to this, one that avoids Glover being vulnerable to accusations of straight up plagiarism.
When he gets it right - and this happens on more than one occasion - the results are so on the money it's hard to believe his former projects have been so cruelly overlooked. Opener Don't Fuck With My Money is whip tight and to use the common vernacular of the time, full of spunk and danceable vigour. Glover's sometime falsetto ticks and soulful, slightly minimalist keyboards build the platform for a joyous delivery of a well meant threat, covering it in the kind of sugar Sam Sparro would probably kill for.
Hitting this level of uncomplicated Nirvana reminds you of when irony was another media's problem. Something I'm Not locates a rich seam of blue-eyed Mid Atlantic soul, it's sketchy, almost tribal beats pointing more to Glover's ability as a remixer of some note for amongst others Marina And the Diamonds and Goldfrapp. The Worse It Gets by contrast is all Jacko, bubblegum chewing and drenched in cherry cola pastel coloured innocence with nods to the late one's classic turns with Quincy Jones.
As ever the road to shangri-la isn't always paved with gold, and the gnarled by contrast balladry of Someone Got Everything sweats cheesily, whilst Fair Warning sounds like a passable impression of early Howard Jones, presumably without the orange jackets and mullet/bouffant hair.
This is all a far cry from Animal Animal, his initial release in 2009. An afro rhythmic trip that prompted comparisons to far hipper fellow New Yorkers Talking Heads, it potentially signalled a more underground route to glory. Somewhere along the way these pretensions to hipsterdom have been jettisoned. As if to underline the new duality of Glover's approach, the house inflected Multi Millionaire sounds like the diary of a hedonistic love affair, but under it's skin their appears to be a commentary on the disposability of material goods and the stupidity of everyone's pre-2008 attitude to credit. Or admittedly their may not. Penguin Prison is flawed that way, but it still has a beautiful body, and it still wants to hold it against you. Let it.