Given that they've had releases on labels run by Josh Homme and Mike Patton, it's no secret that Mini Mansions have friends in high places. Still, the amount of star power surrounding the band's third album is notable: not only is The Great Pretenders on T-Bone Burnett's Electromagnetic imprint, it features collaborations with Brian Wilson and Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner. However, the band is never overshadowed by these connections, largely because this is their strongest work yet. They spent two and a half years honing these songs, and more than ever, the album finds Mini Mansions living up to their name: The Great Pretenders is compact yet lavish, with melodies that sparkle like a chandelier and production that gleams like newly polished silverware. Songs like the breathy and breezy "Death Is a Girl" and "Heart of Stone" are quintessential Mini Mansions, with their airy keyboards and Beatles-meets-ELO vibe, while "Honey, I'm Home" recalls the kind of bouncy yet sinister pop that happens when Michael Shuman's other band Queens of the Stone Age gets near a piano. Yet Mini Mansions sound more modern and streamlined on The Great Pretenders than ever before, even when they break out the glitter on the glam flashbacks "Fantasy" and "Creeps," where Shuman sings "nothin's gonna get too deep." This deceptively blasé vibe permeates the album's jaunty melodies and deadpan lyrics, suggesting that Mini Mansions are most genuine when they're wickedly ironic. This is particularly true of the tracks featuring guest stars: Wilson is a perfect fit as a backing vocalist on "Any Emotions," adding a bittersweet tinge to its determined detachment. Meanwhile, Turner embodies the dark side of the band's cheery disdain on "Vertigo," where The Great Pretenders' seedy undercurrent rises to the surface. Though they get heavier on the album's second half -- most successfully on "Mirror Mountain"'s gut-punching outbursts -- it's the way they bring their pop skills to the fore that makes The Great Pretenders solid evidence that Mini Mansions should be as well-known as the company they keep.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares