To understand the novelistic genius of the Silver Jews, choose any of the band's albums and listen to the first line. On the sparkling '90s-pop masterpiece American Water
, it's "In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection." The lo-fi Bright Flight
starts by explaining that everything has been downhill since God created Earth. And on the band's long-awaited fifth album, Tanglewood Numbers
lead Jew David Berman makes "Where's the paper bag that holds the liquor/Just in case I feel the need to puke?" sound downright poetic. Then Berman, whose battles with substance abuse culminated with an overdose in 2003, launches into an album's worth of lively tunes fashioned from the most offbeat imagery and chilling metaphors he can muster. The first track, "Punks in the Beerlight," is triumphantly danceable, despite a haunting organ and urgent shouts of "I always loved you to the max!" The mysterious pall over the galloping ditty "Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed" contrasts starkly with the cheeky call-and-response chorus on the banjo-strewn "How Can I Love You If You Won't Lie Down?" Even with its drug-addiction undertones, Tanglewood Numbers
is one of the most fulfilling and rollicking Jews outings to date, right up to the last line.