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Shockheaded Peter (Soundtrack from the Musical)

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Album Review

The Tiger Lillies' Shockheaded Peter is the soundtrack to the critically-acclaimed stage production based on the 1850s book "Struwwelpeter, " a collection of macabre cautionary tales written by Heinrich Hoffmann, a psychiatrist frustrated with the era's boring children's stories. Similar to Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies, in "Struwwelpeter" rude, disobedient, and dirty children meet gruesome ends. The stage production uses toys, puppets, and a carnival barker to reinforce the Tiger Lillies' nightmarish, humorous adaptation of Hoffmann's fables, but the album doesn't need props to achieve the same creepy, cabaret-punk effect. Though a cabaret album about ill-fated children could be monotonous, Shockheaded Peter creates many sounds and moods from a limited palette. Singer Martyn Jacques' androgynous, cockney falsetto, and wheezing, sighing accordion add another level of surreality to vignettes like "Fidgety Phil," the tale of a boy impaled by cutlery when he pulls off the tablecloth at dinnertime. The manic oompah of "Bully Boys," about a trio of kids who meet their end after annoying the neighborhood giant, provides a nice foil to the sprightly waltz "Snip Snip (Suck-A-Thumb)," which involves a thumb-sucking boy, an evil tailor, and long, sharp scissors. "Johnny Head-In-Air" gives the story of a fatally absent-minded boy a slinky, jazzy backdrop, while "Flying Robert" (carried off with his umbrella in a gust of wind) has a soulful, elegiac sound. Judiciously used sound effects, like the howling cats on "The Dreadful Story About Harriet and the Matches," and the cracking whip on "The Story of Cruel Frederick," complete the album's theatrical atmosphere. Jacques' lyrics also deserve praise; even without music, couplets like "Snip! Snip! The scissors go/And Conrad cries out, 'Oh!'" and "Those silly bully boys/They've lost more than their toys" retain their pitch-black humor. A singularly creative album, Shockheaded Peter may not appeal to everyone, but its violent, vibrant, kiddie horror stories showcase the Tiger Lillies' distinctive talents.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

With their signature blend of chanson, opera, and Gypsy music, London-based experimental rock trio the Tiger Lillies are difficult to define in one sentence. Formed in the early '90s by singer Martyn Jacques, drummer Adrian Huge, and double bass player Adrian Stout, the group revels in the bawdy vaudeville traditions of prostitution, opium dens, and the seedy life of the eternal street musician. They have recorded numerous albums, including 1998's cabaret-inspired Shockheaded Peter: A Junk Opera...
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