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Puerto Muerto | ...Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore (Fire)
Well, it wins worst album title of the year hands down but is there any reason to delve further? Well, on the surface one would be inclined to say yes. A collection of nineteen songs about and around history (most of it bloody and decisive) sung by a husband and wife team (American and German respectively) with titles such as Blood Red Wine, San Pedro and Grinding Bones, comparisons with the Handsome Family will immediately spring to many critics' minds. But Puerto Muerto are an entirely different proposition and not a wholly successful one at that. While Rennie Sparks peers under the surface of her subject matter, Puerto Muerto attack it head on and in a song like Jean Lafitte with its refrain of "My name's Jean Lafitte and I've long since retired...Aye, I fight the Spanish reign, the brutes, the killers and slaves..." it's a very fine and difficult line they're treading between pathos and pastiche (for further comment see Rennie Speaks' quotes re: this kind of songwriting in the HF interview elsewhere in this issue). The nineteen songs on offer are all rather sparsely punctuated by bare percussion, acoustic guitars, creating a sort of stripped down Pogues without, of course, Shane's bile. And that's maybe the trouble here, dealing with songs with such dark subject matter, both the singers' voices just aren't strong enough to handle it with the gravity it deserves. Admittedly Christa's voce is better than her husband's and wisely she sings the majority of the songs in a cold, dare-I-say-Germanic manner that sometimes folds into operatic histrionics (San Pedro). When this album works best is when things are kept nice and simple as in the tremulous Das Vidania which is a Brel-like paean to the ladies of the night or on the ghostly disembodied Fricasse, the best track here, which sounds uncannily like a modern day Rickie Lee Jones. They're also not scared to experiment a little as on the looped a-cappella vocals of Grinding Bones and sometimes you wish they'd done this more. An intriguing album nonetheless, somewhat short on emotional depth and resonance, far too long at 65 minutes, but with the odd flurry of excitement that promises better things to come from this duo.
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002