"Strange journey/See you inside," sings Robert Pollard near the conclusion of Pinball Mars, the third album from the Circus Devils. It's repeated in that spooky whimsy that Pollard reserves for the allegorical tales he conjures up with the band. This time around he has given himself the creative challenge of a fully realized rock opera (the title character is a Tommy reference), complete with multiple characters and an engaging storyline. The Tobias brothers once again provide the waves of sound -- the nightmares of color. A gang of three, led by Pinball Mars, is residing in a big city at a time when it appears that anarchy rules, but society is actually very much controlled by the powers that be. Flush, Z, and Pinball are consumed by drugs, and feel they may be losing their souls because of their abuses. Both God and the Devil (as the Alien and in the form of the slippery drug dealer, Eel) appear. Pollard plays the roles of all (including the narrator and other observers), his voice often manipulated electronically and by his own howling. The soundtrack is one of blood-curdling fancy merry-go-round rides one wants off, but can't because of what awaits. It's as if an illicit IV has been administered during REM sleep, drawing the listener closer to the protagonists, and further into their shady world. The theme of good and evil has always been the Circus Devils' focus, but here the concept feels different, more human. Is Robert Pollard himself contemplating his own drug and alcohol use/abuse and its effect on his health and soul? In the end, Pinball has either succumbed to the vices and has descended into hell, or is simply living in it. Only Pollard knows for sure what's exactly going on here (and maybe only in the deep recesses of his mind). It is a strange journey. See you inside.
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AllMusic Review by Bart Bealmear