Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes’ penchant for reinvention has seen him strike various poses across the band’s 11-album output. In Paralytic Stalks, we encounter incredibly raw outbursts of painful emotion in the lyrics, making his latest reinvention one of the most personal and uncomfortable yet. The happy-go-lucky lover we met in Satanic Panic in the Attic is long gone. The mood is even bleaker than in False Priest, Barnes’ last album, in which he obviously encountered some heartbreak and wrote songs such as the ultra-depressing ‘Casualty of You’. In Paralytic Stalks, Barnes explores his obviously quite complex relationship with his wife Nina. I say ‘complex’ in the sense that perhaps marriage isn’t for you, Kevin – his lyrics veer wildly between manic outbursts of affection (‘when I die/I want you to die too/Not to try and stay in a dimension without you’) and deep despair (‘I should be happy but/what I feel is corrupted, broken, impotent, insane’).
On the other hand, this is the same Of Montreal who once released a cheerful upbeat 4-minute pop track about necrophilia, so I’m hard pushed to take Kevin literally in his outpourings of grief. This is fine in the first half of the album, where all the lyrical darkness is off-set by Of Montreal’s usual electro-pop-funk. The second half, which does not contain a single track less than 7 minutes long, veers wildly into self-indulgent territory as the music increasingly matches the self-indulgent tone of the lyrics (‘Wintered Stalks’ is the worst offender here).
This isn’t to say the album as a whole is a failure. Tortured soul/drug addict/Rick James-esque troubadour is an interesting new pose for Barnes to adopt – he came dangerously close in Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer, but goes over the edge here. It’s just that the music has seemed to suffer slightly with this dark turn Barnes has taken. Of Montreal have mostly been at their best within the confines of the 4-minute pop song (12 minute tour de force ‘The Past is a Grotesque Animal’ notwithstanding), and while we can see this in the first few tracks (‘Dour Percentage’ is a highlight), the second part has a feeling of going off the rails, and not in a good way. Poor Kevin.