No preparations are necessary to enjoy pop-rock act Ludo's second major-label release, the whimsically titled "Prepare The Preparations," which drops Sept. 7. The name only hints at the surprises in store on an album that fully pays off on the promise showed in the band's spectacular 2005 sci-fi rock opera, "Broken Bride."
The St. Louis quartet's first album for Island, "You're Awful, I Love You," was released in 2008 and included some fantastic songs, like the macabre cabaret number, "Love Me Dead," which brought Ludo some much-deserved mainstream attention. The disc boasted five other amazing songs interspersed among some solid, but fairly mainstream, offerings that failed to stand out. Whether the result of meddling from the label or creative exploration by the band, it left me unsure about whether Ludo was going to be able to maintain that unique spirit that set it apart.
Any doubts I had were decisively put to rest after listening to "Prepare the Preparations." The album is a cornucopia of subjects, styles and influences drawn from diverse and disparate sources. The CD opens with "Too Tired to Wink," a hard-rocking march with a menacing carnival flair, chronicling the hard and winding road to success, and how easy it is to compromise yourself and get lost along the way.
The awesomely titled "Robots vs. Cyborgs" is an all-out metal song, propelled by driving drum and bass parts punctuated with great vocal work, chronicling the struggle to maintain individuality when facing a homogeneous homicidal horde of machines bent on your destruction. Whether you're fighting against a conformist society or actual killer robots, the song works great, metaphorically and literally.
While probably one of the most radio-friendly tracks, the innuendo-infused first single, "Whipped Cream," struck me as a little underwhelming at first. It's grown on me, however, thanks in large part to fun lyrics and its pair of ridiculously over-the-top music videos: one homemade, one polished, both featuring a bukkake-like orgy of whipped cream being sprayed on the band members.
The devotional love song "Anything for You" took me by surprise with its Munchausen-esque tall tales of deeds and experiences stealthily couched in a disarmingly upbeat folk track. The lyrics include a multitude of pledges as to what the singer would be willing to give up for his love, including wisdom bestowed by gods, the wishes granted by leprechauns, and proof of other planes of reality.
Playing like the lost track to Danny Elfman's score for "A Nightmare Before Christmas," "Skeletons on Parade" is unadulterated brilliance, chronicling the resurrection and ensuing antics of the non-living population of an isolated island community on a holiday celebrating the dead. It begins with a Celtic-inspired a cappella section before moving on to jazz, then full-blown musical theater, before finally concluding with a driving metal march. This is Ludo at its madcap best. My one complaint is that I wish that they would have used real orchestral instruments, specifically the strings, rather than relying on a synthesizer.
As eclectic as the first half of the album is, the group sets its sights on new destinations for the second, successfully exploring a number of genres. "I'll Never Be Lonely Again" is a 1950s ballad, while "All the Stars in Heaven" is a guitar-driven blues-rock number that tells the story of bank-robbing young lovers. "Rotten Town" is a rocking tango that details the misadventures of a drunken sailor stuck in a despairing harbor town, and "Overdone" is a melancholy lament of unrequited love and self-destruction. Not really covering new ground, the penultimate track, "Battle Cry," is a rock anthem and a bit of a mixed bag that boasts some delightful, Queen-inspired moments and an uplifting message that make it a serviceable rallying call for the different and downtrodden.
The last full song on the album is the haunting "Safe in the Dark," which alternates between quiet verses punctuated by chilling harmonies and heavier choruses and touches on a number of different themes that revolve around distance, isolation and trying to be there for people during difficult times. The tune offers glimpses into a series of very serious and emotionally charged scenarios, but offers no conclusions, leaving you feeling decidedly unsettled. The album closes out with a return to the land of the dead with the brief, but beautiful "Skeleton's Lullaby."
The product of brave choices and skilled execution by the band, "Prepare the Preparations" is funny, fantastical, epic, intimate, heartfelt, haunting and unapologetically nerdy. It's an incredibly entertaining album with no reservations that is 100-percent Ludo. "?Eric Webb