Curtains for You’s publicist pitched us What a Lovely Surprise to Wake Up Here as “The Beatles meets vaudeville meets The Muppet Show,” a bizarrely promising description that led Way Out Wednesday columnist Tony Redman to raise his hand for review duty — only to be crushed when the album revealed no discernible traces of Henson. Tony locked himself in his office in protest, where he’s been spinning Mister Peanut’s Salty Songs for Young Lovers on repeat for the last two months, so I agreed to step in and see what all the fuss is about.
It’s true that Lovely Surprise isn’t Muppetish; nor is it particularly vaudevillian. What it is, however, is a damn fine pop record. Right from the start — specifically, the loping melody, stacked harmony, and galloping electric guitars of opening track “Nuclear Age” — fans of fallen pop heroes like Jellyfish, the Greenberry Woods, and the Gladhands will experience the spine-tingling rush of a band that understands classically forged hooks (and layered, baroque-tinged arrangements) and isn’t afraid to use them.
As with all the bands I just mentioned, Curtains for You likes them some Beach Boys; Lovely Surprise‘s most obvious tribute is “Dumb Angel,” a gorgeous midtempo number with keening, Wilson-esque vocals on the verses that float into sunny harmonies on the chorus. Beneath all that Hawthorne warmth, however, lurks some pleasingly acid darkness: “You are the dumbest angel I’ve ever seen/They’re gonna clip your wings, and then down you will go.”
But it isn’t all surf and sand: Elsewhere on the album, the fizzy falsetto that leads “Red Red Rose” and the percolating backing vocals and chiming guitar solo of “Roadtrip to Disaster” offer further evidence of the band’s ability to brew overly familiar (and frequently abused) ingredients into freshly addictive concoctions. The frantic, sweaty “Clanging of the Masses” flashes a little extra bite, without losing its hard candy shell; “Small Change” swings with a New Orleans-flavored rhythm, barroom piano, and brass. And with the stripped-down “Chain Link Fence,” the band proves it doesn’t need intricate arrangements and piles of overdubs to support its songs.
No one really knows what to do with this kind of music anymore — about the best Curtains for You can hope for is a mismatched tour with a more popular band, a la fun.’s jaunt with Paramore — but if you’re part of the small, perpetually frustrated cadre of pop fans that keeps scouring the racks for bands who can bring some power to their pop, do yourself a favor and invest in a copy of What a Lovely Surprise to Wake Up Here.