A Feast Where What Is Yours Is Mine

Featured, Music — By on September 13, 2012 at 7:00 am

The Pinkerton Raid
The Pinkerton Raid
(self-released)

I am not comfortable with my spirituality, and I am not comfortable with my sensuality. Combine the two, and my first instinct is to crawl back into my Cancerian shell like the late June baby I am. I do not feel compelled to raise my hands or clap or “woo” at church services or rock concerts. I blush when I talk to women and my one and only visit to a gentleman’s club found me talking to the dancers about their kids rather then ogling.

All that to say that The Pinkerton Raid’s eponymous first album is as far from my way of thinking as can be. This is an album that revels in sensual spirituality. Food and wine, love and sex, God and community, maturity and innocence are all fair game for the Raid’s brand of dreamy jazz-pop. There is a sad, sweet quality to the music that speaks of bitterness and hope.

On first listen, all I could think was that the album seemed schizophrenic. How can you sing about the communion of saints and the provisions of God and then follow it up with a song about a sad bullfrog and lusting after your kid’s piano teacher? There is little outside of a Frontline documentary that makes me feel less sexy than religion.

Despite that, I have always felt envious of those for whom spirituality is not some sort of intellectual assent to propositions. The more I listened to the album the more I felt as if The Pinkerton Raid were not willfully or naively acting bipolar, but instead were honestly and bravely exploring what to me is the knife’s edge between religion and human sexuality. I found myself wanting to go to the feast described in the brash and fun song “The Life of the Party”, where the host never lets the party die. The song “Paris” reminds me of the times in life I have been in a new place or a new bar and realized that I was still alone and nothing at all was different.

These are not minor observations, because life is not made up of easy and palatable emotions. Love is an oasis in a desert of pain, as many of the songs on this album describe. Love can “wipe away the lines above my eyes,” as in the song “Trouble”. Love is “sowing peace together on the battlefield,” as in the hauntingly simple and beautiful “Could You Wait”. “Santa Rosa” is powerful anthem about those who are poor in a land of wealth. “In the land of milk and honey / Somehow there is no more” describes my own feeling of hopelessness about the future as accurately as if I were speaking for myself.

“Piano Queen” and “Those Curves” fall in the middle of the album and are both aggressively sexual and jazzy. The best thing about these tracks is that they do not try to hide sexuality behind a thin veneer of “love” or “caring.” These are songs about need, which is as real a human activity as it gets. “Piano Queen” especially is a brutally honest song in which the protagonist desires the woman who teaches his children piano. As Jeff from the BBC show Coupling says, “Men are not people. We are disgustoids in human form.” But this is the way men’s minds work, and we have all desired someone in less than appropriate circumstances. “Piano Queen” transitions seamlessly into “Those Curves” and one cannot help but feel that the singer is talking about getting lost in another person’s body, and the bliss and comfort of losing control.

The music is dreamy, the vocals are engaging and real, the instrumentation is lush, and the production values exceed the output of many other independent bands. The album concludes with a sweet and beautiful benediction in the form of “Lullaby, Butterfly”. “The light that makes the flowers rise / Will shine upon your colors bright / The wings that bring you to the sky / Will lift our eyes to God on high.” It is a praise song to a love greater than us that, like the other loves described on the album, is an island in a sea of troubles. This song alone makes The Pinkerton Raid worth the price of admission.

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