The Fever

In the City of Sleep

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On both the Pink on Pink EP and their full-length debut, The Red Bedroom, the Fever was a band of wound-up, new wave/dance-punk revivalists along the lines of the Rapture and Hot Hot Heat. While they were far from terrible, they weren't especially distinctive, either. However, after the departure of their founding guitarist, Chris Sanchez, the group did a massive retooling of their sound, and for their second album, In the City of Sleep, they drew inspiration from the theatrical flourishes and '50s rock that occasionally bubbled to the surface in their earlier work. The Fever is painting with a much more vivid palette here than they ever have before, with darkly surfy, Dick Dale-esque guitars, carnival organs that were last heard on a Fellini score, and junkyard percussion à la Tom Waits' Bone Machine making up the album's main musical motifs. Reaching farther back into the past for inspiration seems to have paid off for the Fever, as In the City of Sleep is easily the most unique and self-assured music they've made. However, the band is still most convincing when there's at least a little rock muscle behind them: the opening track, "Redhead," is a slice of art-damaged rockabilly that shows that even after half a century, twanging guitars and howled vocals still conjure up images of sex and death. "Hotel Fantom," the slow, spooky grind of "The Secret," and "Crying Wolf" -- which is one of the album's best uses of drummer Achilles' homemade percussion -- follow suit, finding the perfect balance of the Fever's newfound ambitions and the rock of their past. Throughout the album, Geremy Jasper is a remarkably versatile vocalist, sounding like everyone from David Byrne to Roy Orbison to David Gilmour, depending on what any particular song needs. In fact, he and the rest of the Fever might be a little too versatile, because on parts of In the City of Sleep, they still end up seeming like a pale shadow of their inspirations -- "Do the Tramp," for example, has such a heavy Waits influence that it crosses the fine line between homage and parody. Likewise, the Fever isn't accomplished enough to pull off some of the flights of fancy they attempt, such as "Magnus," an interlude that rambles but doesn't go anywhere, and "Waiting for the Centipede," a piece of mannered, Alice in Wonderland weirdness that doesn't quite fit with the rest of the album. However, some of In the City of Sleep's slower and prettier songs end up being highlights. "Bye Bye Betty Blue" marries a drumbeat shamelessly stolen from the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and an Orbison-worshipping falsetto, while "Yr Fool," the album's last and best song, is delicate and dramatic enough to grace the soundtrack to a David Lynch film (and its mention of a world "wrapped in plastic" is a clever nod to Twin Peaks). If In the City of Sleep were an album of nothing but ruined rockabilly and deranged Roy Orbison ballads, it'd be fantastic, but the Fever occasionally gets bogged down by trying to prove how far they've come since their dance-punk days. Still, the album has more than a few striking moments, and the band deserves credit for trying something different, even if they're sometimes trying too hard.

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