Abnormals Anonymous (Jetset)
by Nik Rainey
I wanted the love the last Congo Norvell album, I did, but The Dope, the Lies, the Vaseline, in spite of the oft-brilliant strung-out six-string of Kid Congo Powers and the femme fatalist trill of Sally Norvell, lacked a certain, undefinable… I don’t know what…je ne sais quoi? (Apparently, the Fates thought so too, since increasingly typical label treachery has kept it from being released.) Abnormals Anonymous, on the other hand, goes a long way towards making the musical dime-store paperback they kept promising to write, digging deeper into the noir atmosphere where all the torch singers reek of nicotine and gasoline than previous productions. It helps that Norvell sings with less restraint than before, still every bit the debauched loungestress, only now daring to get fresh rips in her seams. Congo’s guitar work is similarly more engaged and the production values a little less ungraspably slick. But then, how can you not find new vistas of existential despair when you give the shotgun seat to Mark Eitzel, a man who makes Leonard Cohen seem chipper? Eitzel collaborates on five songs here (Powers returned the favor by playing on Eitzel’s upcoming album for Matador), and his weary presence is felt throughout the album, managing to wring new pulpy juice from even the hoariest of metaphors (“She’s Like Heroin to Me”) and providing a creepy counterpoint to Norvell’s increasingly passionate vocal style (the actress having finally mastered her Method). But, lest we give too much credit to the visitor for merely bringing a little drugged wine to the bacchanal like a good guest, it’s the band that really makes this black shindig swing, especially keyboardist Paul Wallfisch, who can turn from subtle piano accompaniment to full-fledged Farfisa terror, pulling a surprising new wavery whine out of Norvell on the album’s uncharacteristic highlight, “Johnny’s in the Boudoir,” which grafts crazed Douglas Sirk melodrama onto a double-retro foundation. Hell, they even provide a little light entertainment on the aborted closer, the ridiculously-accented accordion number “Doctor Zhivago.” Never ones for high art nor wallowing in genuine filth, Congo Norvell have finally found that place where the light from a lone cigarette is enough to illuminate all that needs be seen.
(67 Vestry Street, Suite 5B New York, NY 10013)