Katzenjammer Kabarett – Grand Guignol & Variétés

Katzenjammer Kabarett - Grand Guignol & Variétés

Katzenjammer Kabarett - Grand Guignol & Variétés

Voilà, the second album from the French quartet made up of Mary Komplikated, Herr Katz, Klischee, and Mr. Guillotine, and, as the album title denotes, Katzenjammer Kabarett revels in traipsing through a variety of styles, from 1980s synth-pop to dark cabaret melodramatics to classical strings and piano notes.  The lyrics are streaked with a sly, morbid wit and the instrumentation is complex, incorporating sonorous strings and darkly glossy electronics, and possesses a sometimes jaunty, upbeat tone that contrasts craftily with the macabre lyrics and sweetly sour vocals, creating a playfully uneasy dichotomy. 

The French band with the German name and English lyrics (courtesy of Her Katz) have a penchant for lyrical and musical (composed by Kilschee) theatrics with singer Mary Komplikated holding sway with dramatic, but wily vocals that evoke Siouxsie Sioux.  The story-telling lyrics take center stage on the songs, and it is easy to be entertained by the by the misery and misfortune of others to be found therein.

“Jack’s Parade” is an amalgam of musical styles, starting with low strings, metal tinkering, and spacey sounds that segue into a dancey synth-pop beat that alternates between a steady to rapid tempo at the flick of a switchblade.  Depeche Mode-like synth and beats dot Mary K.’s richly glossy vocals until a charge of rougher, The Killers-like guitars storm the chorus as Mary K. sings in an aching, expressive voice like Siouxsie Sioux.  By the end of the tune, the sound changes yet again, with drawn-out and plucked strings reminiscent of certain Cranes songs coming to the fore.

“Hidden & Sick” is a pop song with a sick twist to the lyrics.  Metal tinkering and somber cello sawing give way to festive wood-knocking notes and tinging triangle noises that sound like a tinsel snowfall.  The macabre story that unfolds, however, is anything but cheerful, as Mary K. sing-talks about a boy named Henry whose parents leave him in the attic to be looked after by “crazy grandma” and the next thing you know, “last night his parents…fell from a cliff / and his grandma forgot about him…”

That’s not the end of it though.  Oh, no.  Mary K. continues to spunkily sing-talk about little Henry, that he was in the attic “…with only dust to lick / not even a book or old clothes to eat / six long days…stuck in the attic / not a day more could he have lived…”, with the end result being Henry’s death.  The song, however, aurally unfolds in a catchy, melodic, fast-paced way, with cool, plucky vocals, galloping beat, and buzzing Depeche Mode-like synths, which blunts the impact of the lyrics and creates a queasy feeling of guilty delight.

Not to be lyrically outdone, “10 Years” continues the hair-raising story-telling amid a fast pace of wiry guitars, dynamic drums and bass line, cymbals, and asteroid-busting laser blasts as Mary K. sing-talks in a falsetto tone that “For ten years he’s been lying here… / because he’s dead you see, but keeps growing. / We cut his nails almost every week.” 

Dark piano notes, a thumping beat, and smooth piano notes feature on “Nothing but his” as Mary K.’s sing-talks in short-phrases until the drum beat disappears, and it’s just reverberating piano notes, bass and angular guitar lines, and Mary K. lyrically following in the footsteps of the story’s paranoid protagonist who feels that someone is shadowing him, but “…those steps he always heard / were in fact steps of his.”

Erring on the side of mischievous cacophony is “Wondered colonel killed couple”, a noisy, speedy, disorienting, thankfully brief, punk number clocking in at under 2 minutes.  It’s like an Atari Teenage Riot song without the vitriol, a crazy carousel ride that cleanses the listener’s ears.

 Katzenjammer Kabarett

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