P.M. Dawn: Dearest Christian, I'm So Very Sorry for Bringing You Here. Love, Dad

P.M. Dawn
Dearest Christian, I'm So Very Sorry for Bringing You Here. Love, Dad
Gee Street/V2

FOUR RECORDS INTO a fascinatingly contrarian career, the hip-hop soul duo P.M. Dawn still hasn't covered the Beach Boys' paean to suburban teenage pathos, "In My Room," a tune that might as well be their theme song. Since the band's groundbreaking 1991 debut, Of the Heart, Of the Soul and Of the Cross: The Utopian Experience, P.M. Dawn have translated daisy-age-cum-New Age trippiness and unabashed male sensitivity (usually anathema for hip hop) into a musical language that even the Native Tongues couldn't speak. But mostly the Cordes brothers, Prince Be and J.C./the Eternal, have crafted hip hop as music for mopes. Like the sanctuary depicted in Brian Wilson's immortal ode to solipsism, J.C./the Eternal's soundscapes create a bedroom world where lyricist Prince Be can go and tell his secrets, look out on his worries, and do his crying when midnight sighs.

Dearest Christian finds P.M. Dawn continuing to move away from hip hop, a musical community that has never accepted them. J.C./the Eternal downplays beat science here in favor of willowy melodies based on piano and guitar parts, while Prince Be's vocals can be called "raps" on only a couple of tracks. Instead of acting like old-school turntable technicians and rhyme slayers, Dearest Christian finds the duo drawing musical inspiration from the pop of the late '60s and early '70s.

"Art Deco Halos" rides a T. Rex riff while Be sings of his Wilsonian desire to "emphasize my pain." "Hale-Bopp Regurgitations" is steeped in melodies and harmony vocals straight from the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas. The album closer, "Untitled," is an eight-minute-plus Abbey Road-style medley in which Be meditates on personal pain, confessing, "I can't be myself and still be liked."

The cover art on P.M. Dawn records has always placed the duo in a landscape of their minds' design--imaginary havens distant from the reality they rejected from the beginning. But Dearest Christian's sleeve drawing is a little different. Its cover shows Be and J.C. gazing down into an ocean of sorrow while industrial wreckage (a landfill? the aftermath of a bombing?) piles up behind them. The message is clear: They're engaging reality, and it's an ugly sight.

Dearest Christian unfolds like an open letter to Be's son, an apology for bringing the lad into the cold, cruel world that has oppressed Be from birth. "I had no right to bring you here knowing what I know and feeling the way I feel," Be sings on "Being So Not for You (I Had No Right)." And on the album's centerpiece, "I Hate Myself for You," he compares himself to the original Christian's human father, Joseph--an intriguing step from "In My Room" to "no room at the inn."

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