The Phantom Tollbooth
March 1999 Pick of the Month


Demonstrates Plastic and Elastic
Artist: Violet Burning
Label: Ruby Electric Records
Length: 12 tracks / 63:27 minutes

If you own this disc, you already know how epic it is. If you don't, then you're probably curious about what Mike Pritzl has cooked up for his fourth Violet Burning extravaganza. After all, Mr. Pritzl is one of those rare geniuses who seems able to reinvent himself and his music with every collection of songs he releases, and yet somehow maintain his energy and passion like a perpetual rock-and-roll supernova.

Demonstrates Plastic and Elastic differs most obviously from past albums by being a self-released project with basically all-new members and a whole new sound. The brooding, chain-smoking guitar work of Andy Prickett is gone now, replaced with the glitter-pop fretwork of new guitarist Robby Farr. Pritzl's voice still holds the band together, though, as he slips from dreamy falsetto to deep baritone growls.

Overall, this is a very upbeat set of songs from the Violets. It's closer to the now out-of-print classic Chosen than it is to the last two from the band. Songs like "Berlin Kitty" and "Moon Radio" are nearer to ear-candy pop rock than the dark, smoldering feedback laden explosions of their self-titled masterpiece from three years ago. This departure from the dark to the light is not a bad move by any stretch of the imagination, but it does require some adjustment. Even if it's not the direction fans may have hoped for, you can't  help singing along to lines like "Superman is waiting at your window, you've got Marlon Brando knocking at your door..." ("I'm No Superman"). Lyrically, the Violets walk the edge between references to things spiritual (but not necessarily Christian) and things emotional (which could refer to God, or to a girlfriend). But basically, if you weren't offended by the self-titled release which came before this one, you won't be too shocked or disappointed by the (lack of) references to God contained on this project.

So far, Pritzl has yet to disappoint his fans in whatever incarnation the Violets seem to take. He seems destined with each new release to get closer and closer to perfection. Here's hoping that the next release continues the progression.

The CD is currently only available directly from the band at their official website located at www.violetburning.com. Like most CDs released in 1998, the best rock and roll is still independent.

songlist:
1.      Elaste
2.      Moon Radio
3.      Berlin Kitty
4.      She Says Electric
5.      I'm No Superman
6.      Oceana
7.      Sugarlight U.S.A.
8.      Ilaria
9.      Robot, Fluide Robot
10.     Gorgeous
11.     We Close Our Eyes
12.     Seamonster

By Keith Giles (2/10/99)


 

There are some definite benefits of being on the fringe, and The Violet Burning are enjoying them. Freed of any label restrictions, main Violet man Michael J. Pritzl is able to make the kind of album he just plain feels like making. His fourth album, Demonstrates Plastic & Elastic, is the result of his desire to bring more of an alterna-pop sensibility and brooding balladry to his signature brand of underground rock in yet another incarnation of the Violet Burning that typically bears little resemblance to its predecessors. The more metallized hard-rock look of the band and overall vibes recalling The Cult that filled the 1996 self-titled effort are now replaced with consistently more goth-rock qualities ala The Cure and the Sisters of Mercy (right on down to the guitar sounds and lipstick), as well as some passing glances at Nineties arena rock from the Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and the more ambient offerings of U2. Whereas all of these inspirational sources are potentially worthy, The Violet Burning could afford to go farther to differentiate themselves from these other bands.
 
Nevertheless, Pritzl has succeeded yet again in creating an album that is greater than the sum of its parts. If you were to break down the musicianship instrument by instrument, you would find nothing of virtuoso status worthy of a write up in Musician magazine and its imitators. The guitars, bass, and drums are fairly unremarkable, but some of the synthesized effects and nearly industrial drum loops help jazz things up. The highly effective combination of all the instruments playing together, however, works well in setting moods and creating an enjoyable and engaging listening experience. Even Pritzl's voice, which ranges from a brooding low whisper to a high and wispy screech, lacks power and pizzaz. Yet he caterwauls here in shades of joy and frustration that undoubtedly make a visceral and absorbing impact. Couple this ability to create music of import with the commendable production presenting a clear and wide range of sound that far surpasses most indie offerings, and you have an album that is at all times melodic and memorable. Pritzl's strong songwriting and arrangement skills make the album succeed, even where it seems unlikely.
 
Demonstrates Plastic & Elastic can be neatly categorized into two very distinct moods. About one half of this album, particularly the first, is represented by edgy pop songs, including stand-outs like "Moon Radio" and "Berlin Kitty." These two in particular are the kinds of catchy songs that your local radio station ought to be putting into heavy rotation, and launch the album with a jaunty pace. The other half of the album consists of moody ballads mostly collected toward the end, like "Seamonster" and "We Close Our Eyes," which are unquestionably beautiful and well executed. Regrettably the album loses momentum and slides off into redundant areas that recall some of The Cure's and U2's work a bit too closely. Regardless if whether such imitation suits you, these songs remain hauntingly moving.
 
If you are one of those fans that routes around for evidence of faith in the lyrics, you'll find very little to satisfy you. The nearly gospel/hymn quality of "Elaste" which frames the album, however, offers up a plea that can be easily interpreted as a call out to God:

         Lay your hands now on me
         Let your love cover me
         Sing your sweet songs to me
         Pour your love over me
         All my days are with thee
         Let your love cover me
         I know you feel like a highway to the sky will help you get it right
         Will make your eyes catch fire.

This level of poetry is consistent and even surpassed throughout the album, which mostly explores the obstacles and elation associated with relationships in this often tortured world.
 
Of course, being on the fringe can also lead to uninformed production choices, and The Violet Burnings have committed a minor offense here. Annoyingly the twelve listed songs do not correspond to the numbers, mostly due to the insertion of musical reprise bits and interludes which could have been included as part of one of the existing tracks, but instead are given their own. Until you get used to what is where, you may have trouble finding that really groovy song that you wanted to share with a listening buddy.
 
Dark yet hopeful, and wavering from merely smoldering to fully alighted, these songs serve The Violet Burning's desire to conquer the world one album at a time.

By Steven S. Baldwin (3/1/99)