Although this sounds remarkably similar to a dream I had after eating some bad egg salad at a company picnic, it's actually a sketchy synopsis of Colonel Jeffrey Pumpernickel. This concept album is conceived and orchestrated by Chris Slusarenko, a Portland chap who has had his dirty fingers in a number of creative pies over the years. Perhaps you remember him (and his drumming brother Nate) as a founding member of Sprinkler, a Sub Pop band from a decade past. He was in a band called Svelt. He was in a Devo cover band called the Spud Boys along with Elliott Smith and Sean Croghan. He is still a part of the Cavemanish Boys. It would appear that he isn't shy about embracing a concept.
"I've always liked conceptual, theatrical bands," Slusarenko explains. "Devo, Kiss and I'm a huge fan of rock operas like Tommy [The Who], S.F. Sorrow [The Pretty Things] and the Residents' Mark of the Mole. I'd been listening to this stuff forever and I started getting the idea for Jeffrey. I'd been thinking about something collaborative between artists and bands for about three years."
Slusarenko's idea is certainly vivid and it is given shape by some excellent album artwork from comic book virtuosos Peter Bagge, Adrian Tomine, and Joe Sacco, as well as extensive liner notes from rock critic godfather Richard Meltzer. But for the indie rock autograph hound, it is the awesome lineup of musicians assembled that really makes the whole business go "tilt." Guided by Voices, Stephen Malkmus, Ann Magnuson, The Minders, The Black Heart Procession, Quasi, and the Minus 5 are just a bare scraping of the talent that donated time and original tracks to the process.
"I was really lucky," says Slusarenko. "I pretty much got everyone I wanted. These bands are asked to do stuff for compilations all the time. But this was something so specific, that they really had to think about the story and how it would work. Everyone knew where they were going to be in the story. But I still left it pretty vague, because I didn't want to force anyone to write about something."
"He gave me a basic premise, but I forget what it was," adds Guided by Voices' main man Robert Pollard. "I already had the song ("Titus and Strident Wet Nurse") and I told him I thought it would fit."
Despite bands like Radiohead still waving the banner, most rock fans probably consider the concept album as a quaint and dated artifact from the hippie days. At present, no one really wants to be pinned down to anything so pompous and specific, lest it somehow turn out to be silly or uncool. Slusarenko isn't the least bit worried. "There is a certain amount of chaos and mystery to the concept albums that I love," he says.
"I'm not sure what that thing is about," muses Pollard. "Do you know?"
Let's see. Aren't all concept albums about alienation, paranoia, and insanity in over-industrialized English-speaking nations? "Well, yeah," Slusarenko admits. "But there's different ways to get there." Mystery solved.
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