GREEN PAJAMAS – Box Of Secrets (Hidden Agenda)

Christmas has come early for me with a new release from my favourite US band. For ‘Box Of Secrets’ the band have returned to the idea of songs written about childhood memories, last heard on their 2002 album ‘Northern Gothic’, and have therefore subtitled this one ‘Northern Gothic #2’. A loosely themed concept album, these songs are more personal than some of their previous efforts, even though they are mostly fictional and based on the flimsiest of real events, which is quite some trick to pull off. The arrangements are also more fully realised, with the horn and string section on opener ‘Katie’s Gone’ being particularly memorable, while the band on their own prove they can still rock out on ‘Until The Daylight’ with its loping rhythm and searing guitar licks. Jeff Kelly gives us plenty more evidence of his skill at writing poignant ballads, with ‘When Abigail Was 17’ and ‘Eyes Of A Stranger’ standing out, and while Eric Lichter’s songs are usually my least favourite on any new GP’s album, he is now writing some great stuff, and ‘Walk Hard’ is one of his best. ‘Wild Pony’ is a monster of a track, with a terrific riff holding the whole thing together, and even a simple sentiment like ‘I Just Want To Be Your Friend’ can still be given a new twist. ‘When You’re Good To Me’ is a five year old song disinterred and given a great rocking treatment, augmented by some period farfisa organ, and ‘Blue Eyes To Haunt Me’ is a naggingly insistent ballad with a distinctly unsettling feel to it. ‘La Diabla’ is Laura Weller’s sole contribution to this album, and is up to her usual high standard. The title track slips by a little too unmemorably for a GP’s effort, but it might be a grower, and Eric Lichter gets another go with ‘The Coroner’s Hotel’ – not quite as good as ‘Walk Hard’ but still pretty impressive. ‘Cold Love’ is a jerky pop gem with some stunning bluesy guitar, and the quirky accordion and twangy guitar of ‘Hidden Lake’ give it a creepy ‘Deliverance’-style vibe. The album ends with one of the best tracks – ‘Into The Woods’ – which distils everything that makes the Green Pajamas such a great band into the one song. The lyrics, the melody, the vocals, the harmonies, the arrangement, the sheer inventiveness – everything comes together to produce this beautiful song. For me a new Green Pajamas album is always an event, as there is honestly no other band that I can say have never let me down with a new release, and how they manage to keep up the quality of their records is a mystery to which only they know the answer. This is their twentieth album in as many years, and if you have not yet heard them then you really don’t know what you are missing.