They say to never judge a book by its cover or, by extension, an album by its cover art. But I think I have an argument to the contrary. A World Next Door to Yours by the Parlotones should have won an award for exceptional cover art. Frankly, in a metal box full of rejected music, (we have one in the Medium office—come check it out sometime), something has to stand out. The album art shows a metallic knight in armour carrying a similarly metallic princess holding a megaphone. I don’t get it, but I’m also not sure there’s anything to get. When I open the case, the reverse side of the insert shows that same knight on horseback. The disk itself has no writing or titles on it, but a tiny knight crouching in the shadow of an oncoming dragon. I’m interested—I can’t help it. I’m also having serious doubts about what happens to album artwork, and artists, in the age of digital music.
The first two songs on the album, “Louder than Bombs” and “Overexposed”, make for a strong start. It really gets on my nerves when an artist puts their best song first, and then I spend the rest of the album waiting for another song as good as the first one. But here, while the first two songs are stylistically similar, they do not exhibit everything A World Next Door to Yours has in store. The next two songs, “Dragonflies and Astronauts” and “Beautiful”, provide contrast to the solid wall of rock and roll I was expecting.
The lyrics are catchy but also unpredictable. In “Beautiful”, for example, the chorus goes, “You are all beautiful/ You are all magical.” At the first line I think, “Wow, someone’s an optimist,” and then I catch myself wondering what exactly lead singer Kahn Morbee means by “magical”. I’m assuming that’s a compliment, but there’s also a chance he’s on hallucinogenic drugs. Who knows? Does it really matter?
Listening to the Top 40 recently, it seems like every human being making music these days either lives in a bubble of perfection or is seriously considering jumping off a bridge. The Parlotones are an exception. Listening to songs like “Colorful” and “Giant Mistakes”, I find there is a balance in this music; there is room for normal ups and downs and all the grey area in between.
My favourite song is “Solar System”. It’s slow and lullaby-like, inviting the listener in with the first line, “Take a walk in the solar system.” “Sure,” I think. “That could be fun.” It turns out this song isn’t a happy one, but there is something oddly soothing about it.
In many ways, I think a good album is not unlike a novel; it starts in one place and ends somewhere new. I don’t know that I can tell you, in a logical manner, the narrative of A World Next Door to Yours. I can, however, attest to there being a discernable arc. The album begins with rock and roll, takes a trip through unstoppable optimism, detours through self-doubt, and ends in a soft, comfy place where everyone eats marshmallows for dinner. There’s that other thing they say—getting there is half the fun.