I was just reading the Pitchfork review for this album out of curiosity, and it will come as a surprise to no one that it is one of the most pretentious pieces of writing I have ever had the displeasure of reading. I really don’t mind that they gave it a bad score (5.7), but the way they write about that record, and every other record, is just unnecessary. If the record isn’t Kid A or by some band no one has ever heard of, it’s immediately dismissed as uncool and awful. Well, I’m sorry Pitchfork, but Celebration, Florida is actually among the better albums released this year, and happens to be The Felice Brothers best work yet. Maybe you missed that while you were trying to decide which upcoming band to pan for no reason.
Not only is it their best, it’s also their most accessible for new listeners. I tried countless times to get people to listen to Yonder Is The Clock to no avail, but this album has some real genre-bending music that speaks to a lot of different demos. Ian and James Felice, along with Christmas Clapton, Greg Farley and Dave Turbeville have always been great musically, but on this album, they finally reach the potential that their previous releases had pointed to. When we saw them back in May just before the record came out, I thought the songs sounded fairly dark, even by Felice Brothers standards, and it’s true that there is a certain amount of Johnny Cash-ness to Ian’s voice.
My only real problem with Celebration, Florida is the way it was marketed pre-release. There was a big build-up with the single “Ponzi,” which I feel was a mistake. It’s not even in the top half of quality on the record. In fact, it may be the worst song here. I understand the reasoning behind making it the single, but I feel like they cheated themselves out of some sales by making people think the song represented what you would find on the album. As it stands, it’s just an average song that’s overlong and not nearly as awesome as it wants to be (on that point I will say Pitchfork is correct).
Other than that, I can’t really quibble with anything. If it were up to me, the lead single would have been the first track, “Fire On The Pageant.” It’s a porch-stomping sing-a-long that is bizarre and catchy in all the best ways. Is it really about a zombie? Is the guy only metaphorically dead? I don’t know and I don’t care. I just wanna scream and shout with them!
“Container Ship” is a slow burner that sounds a bit like a Angelo Badalamenti score with words. About halfway through it jettisons into a momentary club-mix before settling back to the exact same Lynch-ian theme from the beginning. It’s odd how the band can mix this stuff together and have it come out sounding like it’s right. I can just imagine them in the studio recording this and listening to the playback, saying, “Yep. That’s exactly what we thought it would sound like.”
Now, “Back In The Dancehalls” was the one song I got a recording of at Lincoln Hall when we saw them, and it looks terrible, but the sound is ok. It’s mostly just Christmas and Ian playing together, but it’s actually a much better song than I originally thought. The lyrics can be a bit nonsensical, but I think that’s kind of the point. Greg Farley’s fiddle work here is really strong, though I don’t think there’s enough of it.
Oddly, much of the album seems to be about the problems that come with gaining notoriety as you rise to the top. Odd, because it seems like only a band that’s actually made it to the top would be able to pull of such a thing. But, The Felice Brothers understand what they’re talking about, and do a good job of running the idea “What good is success if you have no one to share it with?” through the whole album.
By the end, “River Jordan,” the band is ready to call it a day. Desperately longing to be returned to a simpler place where they can be themselves: “Fuck the news. Fuck the House of Blues. Fuck my whole career” Ian cries out as he pleads with a higher power to get him out of the situation he’s found himself in. It’s after this bartering attempt that the album culminates in an explosion of all the energy that has built up until this point. In a glorious bellow that Springsteen would be proud of, Ian implores someone to take him back home.
And with that the album fades out, and you immediately hit play on track one again. Or maybe that’s just me. Sorry I was so late with this review, but I couldn’t get a copy before it came out, and then I had just reviewed their show so I didn’t want to play favorites. Now they’re returning to Chicago as support for Okkervil River, and I am superstoked to see both of them. If you haven’t already picked up a copy of Celebration, Florida please do so now. You won’t be disappointed. Unless you’re a douchey Pitchfork writer.