Old School Reviews: Jeremy Enigk – The Return of the Frog Queen

16 08 2007

by mr. travis

Jeremy Enigk - Return of the Frog Queen

Artist: Jeremy Enigk
Album: Return of the Frog Queen
Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: 1996

During the recording sessions of Sunny Day Real Estate’s second album, LP2, the band began to implode with some reports placing the strain on singer Jeremy Enigk’s conversion to Christianity. With the band essentially splitting into three parts with bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith joining the Foo Fighters, guitarist Dan Hoener going on to his own art projects, and Enigk beginning a solo career, it became interesting to watch the divergent personalities that made SDRE such an enthralling success go onto their latest endeavors. Where the rhythm team of Mendel and Goldsmith brought an added aggression to the Foos, Enigk went the complete opposite route with his solo debut The Return of the Frog Queen, adding a lush 21 piece orchestra to the baroque pop of the album, giving something of the groundwork for the later sounds of bands such as Swan Lake or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Where SDRE could be bombastic at times, Enigk becomes subtle, with muchof the energy coming from his backup orchestra. It’s a bit off putting at first, especially since Enigk’s caterwaul of a voice worked so well with the sounds of his previous band, whereas here he sounds restrained and gentle. But, after a few listens, it becomes apparent that this is a natural progression from his time with SDRE, as well as a bridge to the second phase of the band’s career.

The opener, “Abegail Anne” begins simply enough, Enigk with his guitar, before a swirling orchestra drunkenly steps into the proceedings as if Enigk had just pulled them from the alleyway in the back of some speakeasy in New Orleans. It’s a great effect, giving a widescreen feel to what begins as a tiny number (Elliott Smith would use this technique in a similar way at the start of “Sweet Adeline” on XO), in a way, akin to the first reveal of color in The Wizard of Oz. While the orchestra adds its own potency and drama to the proceedings, it is Enigk’s show, as his voice sounds better than ever, equally tender and sincere at times, harsh and biting at others, as he is on the number “The Return of the Frog Queen,” where he sounds at times like an indie John Lennon. Elsewhere on the intriguing “Carnival,” the band sounds as if it is literally a group of loaded carnies swaying vigorously, while Enigk’s filtered voice gives the impression of a Carnival barker outside of the big top.

One could make the argument that there are Christian themes present throughout the album, disguised as odes to a loved one, unrequited or otherwise. But, it’s not a Christian record in the sense of the Bible thumping or hardcore preaching that sometimes mars such music. Religion has always been a theme in rock music, and Enigk chooses a path that allows the listener to decide whether or not he is talking about religion or his love for a woman. It’s a delicate balance, but one that works, as the listener can make up their mind on the connotations, allowing Enigk the freedom to do what he wants lyrically without the baggage of being pegged to a specific idea or scene.

Ultimately, this is a good start for Enigk as a solo artist as well as a middle ground for those who were surprised at the progressive rock sound of Sunny Day Real Estate upon their return in 1998. It may not be for everyone, but for those who are interested in something a bit different or intrigued by the music of Neutral Milk Hotel or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, this is a decent record that has a little bit of both inside of it.

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