No. 39: Of Montreal Get “Skeletal”
Following the unexpected critical and commercial success of Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, it seemed like Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes had painted himself into a corner. If critics had considered that album a breakthrough because of its juxtaposition of romantic dissolution and bouncy glam, he would either have to start talking about Serious Things and become a Serious Artist, completing the expected maturation, or pull back from the thematic brink to explore the maximalist glitter aesthetic that now pervaded his musical and visual gestures. Needless to say, he went with the latter.
The title of Skeletal Lamping referred to the process of self-exploration, but instead of mining his darker moments, Barnes decided to shine a light on the piece of his personality that considered itself to be a black transsexual named Georgie Fruit. Consequently, the lyrics addressed love, lust, and self-confidence, but in no less personal a style than Hissing Fauna. Where that album talked about his marital problems, “An Eluardian Instance,” one of Lamping’s highlights, told the story of how Barnes and his wife met (the song’s original, and perhaps more charming, title was “Our Last Summer As Indies”).
Nevertheless, this turn away from Serious Themes lost him a certain amount of critical support, and it’s possible to see the album as a bit of a regression, especially since the music used the jump-cut, complex song structures that characterized his earlier work. In the end, though, this just made them one of the biggest Marmite bands of the year, with a divisive but thrilling album and a stage show (involving Barnes half-naked on a white horse) that seemed either awesome or hopelessly derivative. In 2008, Of Montreal became a hell of a band to argue about, and in a way, this just made them more fun.