The Triffids

The Black Swan

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The unpredictability and diversity of The Black Swan undoubtedly challenged longtime Triffids fans. With producer Stephen Street, the band trades Calenture's wide-screen orchestrations and grand-scale arrangements for a more direct, more honed sound, also making greater use of the burgeoning digital technology of the late '80s. And while previous Triffids albums were never homogeneous, on The Black Swan strikingly disparate stylistic elements rub shoulders, sometimes during the same song, from opera to funk to jazz to rap and hip-hop. Frontman David McComb saw the potential of rap and hip-hop to reenergize rock's increasingly dull, uniform idiom and several numbers blend genres in modest but prescient ways. Funky electronic beats, synths, guitar loops, and sampled horns weave through "The Spinning Top Song" and McComb raps, after a fashion, on "Falling Over You." His eclectic vision finds many expressions here: "One Mechanic Town" gallops along with Morricone-esque western flourishes, "The Clown Prince" suggests cabaret music, mixing accordion-driven tango with Rita Menéndez's operatic vocals and there's a hint of '50s pop about "Fairytale Love." Elsewhere, Jill Birt's little-girl voice and an electronic sheen make "Goodbye Little Boy" one of the band's purest pop statements. While the Triffids explore new ground and refuse to settle into a formulaic identity, the one constant here is the strength of McComb's songwriting, which displays new levels of confidence and adventurousness. Indeed, the evocative "Too Hot to Move, Too Hot to Think," the austere, spooky "Blackeyed Susan," and the moving, country-flavored ballad "New Year's Greetings" are career highlights. The Black Swan isn't the band's most consistent, seamless statement; like its namesake, the album is a curious, contradictory beast with nomadic tendencies. Above all, it offers a fascinating glimpse of the myriad directions the Triffids might have taken, had this not been their swan song.

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