I may not be a kid, but I know when something is fun! If you're a parent, then you are probably familiar with "A Series of Unfortunate Events." I haven't read a single one of the books from this series, but my son read all thirteen (and counting?), so there is obviously something about their humor and style that is addictive. The same can be said of "The Tragic Treasury," a collection of clever songs inspired by the book series. Grown-ups may know Stephin Merritt as the brains behind Magnetic Fields, his ambitious recording nom-de-plume that a few years back offered a fabulous 3-disk set called "69 Love Songs." The literacy and deadpan emotional investment of that collection earned "69 Love Songs" a place on many critics `best of' lists. Since then, his chameleonic nature has him peeking from behind corners under various guises, including the 6ths and Future Bible Heroes. The Gothic Archies is simply his latest, and funniest, disguise, as a composer with a penchant for black humor.
So we have a conundrum. Kids know the books but not the musician. A few discerning adults know the artist but not the book series. So, let's address that situation immediately; Kids don't need to know the musician to recognize the humorous tone of these songs, and adults don't need to read the books to be hooked, either. These songs may work great as an accompaniment to the young adult books, but the songs are genuinely entertaining in their own right. As I said, I never read a single volume, but there are points when Merritt makes me laugh out loud. Heck, just reading the band-name makes me laugh. Here's just a sampling of his lyrical style, taken from a rhythmic carnival ride entitled "The World Is a Very Scary Place";
"The world is a very scary place, I hear.
It's hurled and it's twirled through outer space, I fear.
So many ways to lose your skin in it
The number of ways to die is infinite."
Maudlin? Sure, but its bleakness is exactly what makes it so entertaining. Elsewhere, he addresses the `Gothic' mentality with such wit that it would disarm the most dedicated misanthrope. Using a lyrical structure that you may recognize from an old hit song designed to cheer people up, he sings
"Smile, no one cares how you feel.
Be vicious, vain and vile.
Everything's yours to steal if you'll just smile".
Sung in a stately baritone that is at times spooky but always wry, Merritt is a veritable king of deadpan comedy. I figured "A Series of Unfortunate Events"" to be kid stuff, but if "The Tragic Treasury" accurately reflects the tone of the books, I'm wrong. Dead wrong. A- Tom Ryan