With The Ugly People Vs. the Beautiful People, the Czars shed a bit of the exuberant pop sheen found on Before...But Longer and focus on beautiful, melancholic chamber ballads. It would seem that the band's contribution to Sing a Song for You: A Tribute to Tim Buckley has inspired them to continue in the multi-octave tone lullabies of that singer/songwriter. Once again, the Cocteau Twins' Simon Raymonde and storied engineer Giles Hall take on production duties, and once again, they make pianos sound like full orchestras and cause strings to echo into infinity. John Grant's vocals are impossibly sublime throughout the album, as he seeks out tender highs and somewhat angry lows. On the dark ballad "Drug," his voice almost sounds too deep, as he sings, "this is not ecstasy, but it's better than cocaine." "Caterpillar" presents the flip side, and as on the immediately following "Lullaby 6000," Grant's voice soars into the stratosphere to startling, touching effect. "Killjoy" is the album's other great track, where Grant and Tarnation's Paula Frazer both somehow come across like the ghosts of Pasty Cline over a catchy, epic little melody. Whether whispering over distant country twang guitar and mariachi trumpets, intoning over the humming of Frazer, being vocoderized Grandaddy-style on "What Used to Be a Human," or harmonizing with the entire band, Grant's voice is the keystone of the album. He easily has one of the most stunning voices in rock, and one imagines Grant would be seen in the same lofty light as Tim Buckley if he were given the attention he deserved. While The Ugly People might meander more than Before...But Longer, especially in a number of progressive, psychedelic songs that bring to mind Pink Floyd trying their hand at Ennio Morricone soundtracks, the high points outweigh those moments by a long shot. The Czars continue to operate and mature most gracefully in their own rarified, fascinating hybrid realm of folk, country, and rock.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Tim DiGravina