Throw out the black eyeliner, cocaine, post-punk name dropping and aloofness and trade it in for carnie masks, arsenic laced cotton candy, Tom Waits and a touch of insanity. Phony post-punk left town and a funhouse was built in its place. The faint whir of a calliope lures you in, guiding you through the hall of mirrors before you’re felt up in the tunnel of love and left stranded atop a mechanically unstable ferris wheel. Before long, you’re whisked away to a masquerade ball, where you’ve been slipped a mickey, and just before you black out completely, you hear the pop of a Saturday night special, drawn from a mysterious lady’s garter. When you awake, you’re disoriented, your head is throbbing and even your own bedroom looks unfamiliar, but the same music has been playing the entire time—The Fever’s In the City of Sleep.
Between the sinister waltz of “Curtains” and the haunting lullaby of “Yr Fool,” it’s likely that a similar scenario will happen to you. At least in your head, anyway, as In the City of Sleep is prone to provoking hallucinations, rather bizarre and outlandish ones, ones that may infiltrate your nightmares. But hallucinations nonetheless. The familiar Fever sound, that of 2004’s new wave Red Bedroom, has been diminished, even buried by a newfound interest in weird, spooky and surreal sounds. And frontman Geremy Jasper has become an even stronger force within the band, playing the part of sympathetic, yet twisted carnival barker, cooing to lost love Betty Blue one moment, the next horrifically howling, “I asked my baby for a glass of water/she gave me gasoline.”
When I said the band traded in post-punk for Tom Waits, I meant that they not only took on Waits’ seedy lyrical sensibilities but his oddball sense of melody as well. It’s difficult to hear a ramshackle carnival romp like “Waiting for the Centipede,” as well as the “bone” percussion in Cuban garage rocker “Do The Tramp,” and not think Rain Dogs. But the band’s newly expanded sound goes much farther than that. “Redhead,” one of the only songs that bears a resemblance to anything on Red Bedroom, is more of an amped-up surf rocker than a homage to Gang of Four. “The Secret” is a dusty, tremolo heavy rockabilly house of horrors, and the baroque ’50s rock in “Crying Wolf” just begs for an accompanying faux-Werewolf movie video.
If there’s any new wave or post-punk band that still casts a shadow upon the music of the Fever, it’s Oingo Boingo. Danny Elfman’s deranged tales, their campy/paranoid melodies and the ever-present skeleton motif seem to have seeped into some of The Fever’s songs here, particularly “Gypsy Cab/Down on Dog Street” and “Eyes on the Road.” Yet finding one prevalent influence over the entire album proves difficult, as The Fever have broadened their style considerably. The line between the organ pumping rock `n’ roll of “Hotel Fantom” and the dreamy “Circus Girl” is a rather lengthy one, though the two are right next to each other, order-wise.
In the City of Sleep is a dizzying affair, as unsettling and as stunning as its disturbing, yet whimsical cover art. It’s likely to take you through dimly lit affairs, back alley dice games, smoky burlesque shows, knife fights on the pier and glamorous balls. It’s a hell of a ride, but make sure you never take your eyes off that drink you’re holding, or God only knows where you’ll wake up.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Tender Prey
Oingo Boingo – Only a Lad
Man Man – Six Demon Bag
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.