Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
The sun never shines in a Tiger Lillies song. Never. And the twisted creatures who scurry furtively through its lyrics — murderers, rapists, pederasts — are not running toward the light. I mean, the cheeriest number in the group's grim oeuvre may be "Banging in the Nails," on the Brothel to the Cemetery album — a dementedly jaunty tune about a famous crucifixion. (It may leave you chuckling, but not in a wholesome way.)
I know it would be the tinniest of reviewer clichés to say that I've never heard anything like this English trio, but, well, consider it said, anyway. Here is how wondrously strange they are. Martyn Jacques, the leader, songwriter and accordionist, is a countertenor who sings every song — every one — in a keening, castrato-esque falsetto. Adrian Stout, who plays upright bass with exceptional fluidity, also weighs in from time to time on musical saw. And hulking percussionist Adrian Huge, who sits behind (or looms over) a minimalist kit with cymbals the size of pie plates and a bass drum resembling a large hat box, is also likely to clatter forth on an ancillary array of odd metallic objects that includes several kinds of kitchenware.
The Tiger Lillies have been elaborating their strange art since 1989, although I only became aware of them in the spring of 2005, when I attended an off-Broadway performance in New York of their astonishing Shockheaded Peter, a two-hour musical based on a gruesome German children's book (Struwwelpeter) that has been traumatizing unwary youngsters for several generations now. The show, an ensemble production that featured a number of large, alarming and sometimes bloody puppets along with the Lillies themselves, suggested a cabaret in Hell, where Edith Piaf is being held prisoner in the cabinet of Dr. Caligari by Tim Burton, Tom Waits and the late gothic illustrator Edward Gorey (a Tiger Lillies fan, it turns out).
I subsequently discovered that there was also a Shockheaded Peter CD, and that it was one of more than a dozen albums the group has recorded over the years, several of which, as you see, await you here. I don't know where to tell you to begin. There are so many rousing anthems: "Whore," "Swine," "Maggots," "Mortuary." (And let us not forget the gloriously deplorable "Bumhole," a song on Ad Nauseam about an unfortunate man who lacks a, uh, means of gastrointestinal egress, shall we say.) You'll see that The Brothel to the Cemetery is recommended — and quite rightly — by the mysterious eMusic recommenders. I personally favor the extraordinary Bad Blood Blasphemy, one track on which, "Crack of Doom," encapsulates this sublime group's unrelentingly grim worldview: "And so your future's looking bright/ And you have reached the giddy heights/ Don't worry, 'twill soon end/ It is all shallow and pretend."