Pink Martini follow the around-the-world-in-a-dozen-songs thrills of Hey Eugene! with Splendor in the Grass, a mellower, simpler set of small pleasures. These are relative terms, however; the group's music is still well-traveled, with China Forbes singing in five languages (English, Spanish, Neapolitan, French, and Italian) instead of the six or so on Eugene!. However, Pink Martini opt for a more unified sound here, one that draws on the more straightforward lounge-pop of their debut, Sympathique, and the mellowness of '60s and '70s pop. Splendor in the Grass' first half is especially smooth, opening with the beautifully soft Neapolitan ballad "Ninna Nanna" and the title track, on which Forbes sings "I think we should take it slow" over swooping strings, brass, and piano that resurrect the glory days of AM pop; that feeling is echoed by the cover of Joe Raposo's "Sing," the Sesame Street song that gained popularity when the Carpenters performed it (Emilio Delgado, aka Sesame Street's Luis, duets with Forbes here in Spanish and English). The album's first few tracks are among its most playful, including the slinky yet winking "Ohayoo Ohio" and the French confection "Ou Est Ma Tete?" While Pink Martini gets almost too cute for their own good with "And Then You're Gone" and "But Now I'm Back," a pair of songs about a quarreling couple inspired by Franz Schubert's "Fantasy Piano for Four Hands" and featuring NPR justice correspondent Ari Shapiro on the latter's vocals, Splendor in the Grass' second half is among their finest work. "Over the Valley" is a standout, a ballad so timelessly sweet that it seems like it must be a long-lost standard the group just blew the dust off of, but it's an original; conversely, the covers of Moondog's haunting "New Amsterdam" and Agustín Lara's "Piensa en Mi," sung by Chavela Vargas, sound fresh and authentic, providing the drama Hang on Little Tomato and Hey Eugene! provided in spades. Though it's a lower-key set of songs than those two albums, Splendor in the Grass is charming in its own right.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares