Initially, I was put off by Emanuel and The Fear. I didn’t understand their show tunes inspiration, their jaunty piano melodies, and their choral backing. It’s been a long road from the high school show choir stage to the sofa where I sit today, and it took several weeks for Listen to grow on me. Once it did, it was a like a viral infection for which there is no cure.
Emanuel and The Fear sound like some combination of The Mountain Goats meets Bowie meets The Polyphonic Spree meets Hedwig And The Angry Inch. (Throw in some Arcade Fire for good measure.) Epic, sweeping melodies complete with cymbal clashes blend rather comfortably with mostly-spoken lyrics. The album—a neverending musical storytelling exercise if there ever was one—is best played in one steady stream, no skipping tracks, no searching for radio-ready singles. For this reason alone, I can only imagine how amazing Emanuel and The Fear—all eleven of them—are in concert.
Though all the songs fit together seamlessly, “Jimme’s Song” was an immediate favorite with Jimme lamenting, via Emanuel, “I don’t want to do nothing but be in a rock band/I don’t wanna get a job/I don’t wanna be a man.” Thankfully—for me, if not for my partner—this anti-adult sentiment doesn’t describe my ex-boyfriends so much as it describes me. Sometimes I am so freaking pleased that I don’t conform to daily wage slavery in a cubicle; other days, it seems a little too obvious that I am over-educated and under thirty. All I want is a metaphorical rock band—the real one, not that video game fakery—to be my job, to pay the bills. Instead, I review albums. We all make compromises.
Similarly, “Free Life” speaks to the ways you can take control of your own destiny. “It’s a free life if you live it/Why not give it a try.” For all the unfortunate things I have been in my life, the worst thing I’ve ever been was confined.
“Same Way” also speaks to my romantic-but-partnered heart—as if one supersedes the other. To no one’s surprise, I am the downer half of the couple, the misanthrope who cries for no reason and will never be satisfied with my own twisted version of “success.” Just the other night, I was actively frowning (not that I noticed), and my partner leaned over to look at my glum face. “It’s really hard,” he said with total sympathy.” “What is?” I asked. “To be happy.”
How you can’t seem to be happy
Unless you’re making some poor girl feel the same
But I don’t wanna be that way
So if you gotta leave me babe
I won’t say anything
With an impressively generous nineteen songs on one album, Emanuel and The Fear remind me of all the reasons I fell in love with the total album experience as a youngster. Catch them on tour this spring and tell me how much you loved the show.