Rasputina have been called a lot of things in their time: cello rock, gothic and that all-purpose label, ‘alternative’. True, the band doesn’t fit comfortably into any definable genre, a fact that contributed to their years in the vast unsigned musical wilderness. Fortunately for us, Columbia Records eventually snapped them up and Rasputina began their odyssey to transform the cello from orchestral relic into something more dynamic. Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of Rasputina is their ability to demonstrate the mutability of their trademark instrument. Oh Perilous World bears testament to this: from the almost grating buzz of ‘Draconian Crackdown’ to ‘A Cage In A Cave’s breezy panpipes, it is a genre-spanning collection knit together by the cello.
Lending fresh significance to the title, long-time fans will find that Creager and her rotating crew of musicians (which includes Sarah Bowman and Jonathon TeBeest in this instance following the departure of second chair cellist Zoë Keating) have embraced a whole new perilous world, both musically and ideologically, with the new album. Rather than take listeners on the sinister retrospective we’ve been accustomed to, for once Creager pursues the here and now. Subjects under her lyrical remit include the hot topic of climate change and, bravely, the menace of al-Qaeda.
‘1816, The Year Without A Summer’ draws on traditional Rasputina territory with 19th Century trivia on Mary Shelley and odd meteorological phenomena. Here, cello and suitably vintage harpsichord blends with Creager’s distinctive voice, providing an accomplished re-initiation for fans and a good invitation for new listeners. The addictive, thudding ‘Choose Me For A Champion’ rather ironically channels speeches from Osama Bin Laden, while ‘Incident In A Medical Clinic’ includes a wonderfully eccentric deviation about a minute through. ‘In Old Yellowcake’ is arguably the album’s best song, elaborating on the rather superfluous interlude that is ‘Old Yellowcake Breaking News’.
Here’s where Oh Perilous World disappoints: it lacks the consistency of previous Rasputina fare. The real gems are comparatively few and some tracks, like ‘Oh Bring Back The Egg Unbroken’, pick up halfway through for an inspired few minutes but don’t quite deliver otherwise. Creager’s willingness to experiment with the band’s sound is commendable, but you can’t help but wish that there were a few more ‘Transylvanian Concubines’ or ‘Possum Of The Grottos’ lurking around. While standout tracks like ‘1816, Choose Me For A Champion’ and ‘In Old Yellowcake’ are easily the equal of their earlier work, Rasputina’s fifth album could very well be the musical equivalent of a Marmite sandwich.
[Filthy Bonnet; June 26, 2007]