The Four Seasons / Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons

The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette

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This wildly ambitious opus lives up to its reputation as the most bizarre album in the Four Seasons' catalog. With the help of young songwriter Jake Holmes, the straightest of pop groups went psychedelic to create a concept album that casts a satirical eye on American life. The end result is often excessive both lyrically and sonically, but it's also relentlessly inventive, skillfully constructed, and never dull. Genuine Imitation Life Gazette never feels like a cheap cash-in because the group chases its cosmic muse without any worry of pandering to commercial concerns. In fact, fans of concise Four Seasons pop classics like "Dawn" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" will be shocked by songs like "American Crucifixion Resurrection" and "Soul of a Woman," both multi-minute epics that abandon tight pop song structure in favor of symphonic structures spiked with all manner of psychedelic sonic trickery and elliptical, satirical lyrics reminiscent of Van Dyke Parks' late-'60s work. The best of these epics is "Genuine Imitation Life," a critique of artificial pleasures in modern life set to a psychedelicized lounge backing that remains surprisingly sharp by modern standards. These moments are interspersed with shorter songs that combine sharp lyrics with lysergic but catchy melodies: highlights include "Mrs. Stately's Garden," a jazzy, up-tempo pop track with society send-up lyrics worthy of Ray Davies, and "Saturday's Father," a haunting ballad that underscores its tale of a divorced father visiting his kids with a ghostly tapestry of vocal and keyboard textures. Despite all these musical flights of fancy, Genuine Imitation Life Gazette retains a stylistic consistency throughout thanks to the group's stellar vocals. Valli delivers some of his finest leads on songs like "Genuine Imitation Life" and "Saturday's Father" and the rest of the group provides lush, flawless harmonies that match the varying moods of each song. The end result is an album that, while not for all tastes, offers a stunning example of the artistry of the Four Seasons at their most ambitious.

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