The album is immediately remarkable for the all-star cast involved. In addition to the band's core sextet, Pedals features contributions from an array of Chi-town's finest, including Doug McCombs of Tortoise, Sally Timms of the Mekons, singer Edith Frost, and knob-twister du jour Jim O'Rourke, who also produced the album. There's even a banjo track from the High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan. All told, 19 people appear on the album, playing everything from sax to Moog to cello to cornet. The result is a collection of lush arrangements that recalls a time when the songwriter, not the singer, got all the props.
The album opens with the epic "Rrose Selavy's Valise," a nine-minute suite of quick musical snippets that includes a cappella harmonizing, upbeat acoustic strumming, and sax-inflected jazz pop, all topped by the Navins' sultry crooning. The overall effect is similar to the Who's "A Quick One," in spirit if not style. "Lie Detector Test" veers close to Eurotrash parody with its techno bleeps and exceedingly droll vocals and is the album's sole dud, but things perk up with "Paperback," a simple and witty jab at a secretive lover, sung with class by Amy Warren. "I want to know everything about your life, but I'm waiting for the paperback," she sings over cheesy synths that somehow work. "Ms. Tate" is pure Bacharach, complete with tinkling piano, brushed drums, and soaring female harmonies. It, more than any other song, exemplifies the sense of musical propriety conveyed on Pedals.
It's a good thing that the Navins' wit can match their musical vision -- otherwise these songs might come off as pretentious stabs at a bygone era. "There's a grease fire in the kitchen, boy, if you want a light," one of them sings on the album's driving standout track, "Two-Bit Faux Construction." Elsewhere, there are hints of real poetry. "I'm a molecule dancing inside of you, a piece of blue ash expelled, a blur in your vision," they sing on the dreamlike "A Blur in Your Vision." Dumb rock it ain't.Music Reviews