A name like The Ugly Organ is bound to elicit some giddy sniggers and images of human anatomy’s dubious nether regions. All kidding aside, Cursive’s The Ugly Organ has nothing to do with lymph nodes.
The Omaha quintet’s newest full-length is a brooding, self-reflexive musical about selling out, artistic integrity, and compromised creativity. The end result is a dirty pretty thing that seemlessly blends “songs perverse and songs of lament” with songs that recognize frontman Tim Kasher’s “sick obsessions.”
The album opener shuffles along as, according to the liner note stage directions, the grotesquely dressed Organist enters and gestures to an imaginary audience. Kasher’s growl of the album title ushers in “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand,” a punchy preface to the record that slides into “Art is Hard.” As the song narrates some of its own construction, Kasher muses over bland songwriting and “the comforts of repetition” for the sake of CD sales. “If at first you don’t succeed / you gotta to recreate your misery” he sings, adding in bitter self-criticism, “Keep churning out those hits / `till it’s all the same old shit.”
“Butcher the Song” covers similar ground as the narrator — either Kasher or an alter ego — struggles with crafting new material after another failed romance. “I’m writing songs to entertain, / but these people… they just want pain,” our hero gripes while supposedly penning a new song unsuccessfully.
“Driftwood: A Fairy Tale” appropriates Pinnochio to tell a story of love that animates before turning tiresome. The fractured fairy tale is followed by the adulterous “A Gentleman Caller” where a woman tries to get back at her unfaitfhul fella. Blaring outbursts give way to a sublime, blooming moment of devotion driven by Gretta Cohn’s cello. Kasher sings sincerely after the storm, “Whatever I said to make you think / that love’s the religion of the weak / this morning we’ll love like weaklings / the worst is over.”
After conjuring ghosts that won’t leave in “Bloody Murderer” and a painful plea for idealized domesticity in “Sierra,” the album ends with the hopeful “Staying Alive.” Having suffered all the heartache and headaches, the narrator decides that he’s going to continue on, after all. “There are things far too dark to comprehend / Sleep on it one more night my sad old friend,” sings Kasher or his weathered dramtis personae. The snow flurries of jangling sound give way to a ghost choir’s haunting lullaby that assures, perhaps ironically, “the worst is over.”
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