Since releasing their first album in 1995, Brett and Rennie Sparks of the Handsome Family have built a cottage industry out of creating some of the most charmingly morbid songs in contemporary music; death, despair, alcohol, broken dreams, and dashed hopes are common ingredients in their songs, leavened with dark wit and dressed up in lovely, austere melodies and close Appalachian-flavored harmonies. But with Brett and Rennie celebrating 20 years as husband and wife, they decided to try something a bit different for their eighth studio album, and 2009's Honey Moon is a collection of 12 non-ironic songs about love. If you're expecting that this is going to be a bit sunnier than the usual offering from the Handsome Family, you're right, but that's not to say that odd little clouds don't appear on the horizon. In "Little Sparrows," the literal lovebirds of the title are watching cars from a highway overpass, "A Thousand Diamond Rings" opens with a litany of urban detritus such as broken-down trucks and smashed windows, "Darling My Darling" is sung in the voice of an insect attempting to seduce a female of the species, and "The Loneliness of Magnets" uses elementary physics as a metaphor for romance. The Handsome Family aren't exactly rewriting "You Light Up My Life" here, but they're not rewriting their previous albums, either; Honey Moon is the duo's most eclectic album to date, with Brett and Rennie cautiously embracing the sound of classic pop ballads ("Linger, Let Me Linger"), vintage R&B ("My Friend"), Tin Pan Alley crooning ("The Loneliness of Magnets"), and electronic pop ("Love Is Like") along with the traditional country and folk influences. Despite the new textures, Honey Moon still sounds like the Handsome Family, but a version of the Handsome Family that hasn't abandoned the notion of hope, and by the time "The Winding Corn Maze" closes out the album, you're not entirely shocked that the protagonist actually finds who he's been looking for amidst the stalks. On first listen, anyone familiar with the Handsome Family will keep waiting for someone to die or go insane as if wondering when the shoe will drop, but ultimately Honey Moon proves they can ease into more optimistic surroundings and not lose touch with the strange and ethereal qualities that have made them worthwhile.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming