Balletesque is like watching Bugsy Malone, A Fistful Of Dollars, The Phantom Of The Opera, Saturday Night Fever, Star Wars and Das Boot, all at the same time. It leaves you confused, but it’s intriguing.
Even from the opening bars of this album The Young Republic want to make a mark, make a statement that the listening public will notice.
Why else start your album with a piercingly mysterious, continuous note? It’s a beauty that stabs the heart and pricks up ears. It marks a maturer, darker and deeper sound than what they offered back in their 2007 debut, 12 Tales from the Wintry City.
Although still rooted in folk, it’s a much more grand affair this time, none so more than in opener The Alchemist. It’s Arcade Fire clashing head to head with some of the ’80s’ more gothy types. The intro’s strings bleed into it, merging with a rainstorm of distortion, haunting organ and a story of how shit it is to get old when you’re yet to achieve anything.
A disco drum beat, some uplifting bah-bahs on trumpet and a violin interlude make for an odd cocktail of influences, genres, eras and images that strangely work together, even if this comic book hero approach isn’t something to get too engrossed in. It’s the same throughout – a bit of this and a bit of that to make something that doesn’t quite make sense, but is hugely enjoyable.
Take the raucously raw shanty Black Duck Blues, with a strange Flight Of The Conchords riff opening, a gravely It’s So Hard-esque John Lennon tone and a demanding beat, like shopping trolleys being forced to fight for public enjoyment.
Among the chaos are some much softer moments, like Napoleon Roses, beautiful once you distance yourself from the opening, which is a little reminiscent of a bank TV advert. It’s a sweet song, drenched with heart-wrenching strings and a deep, rubbery guitar, suggesting the country vibe of Glen Campbell. And, a highlight, Autumns In The Trees, a string-heavy, moving, cascading, heartbreaking number, recorded to sound as if it’s playing at the foot of the bed as you drift off to sleep.
And it’s no surprise when snippets of trad rear their head, like in Sam Clemens, or things go a bit punk-indie-mainstream in the likes of title track Balletesque.
This album is like the works of Shakespeare; filled with comedy, love, tragedy and the depression at the end of it all. It’s weird, but by no means unpleasant, and epic while being intimate. It’s, ultimately, most enjoyable.