100 Greatest Albums of the 90’s: #19

Remember me? Well I’m back. Thanks for waiting.

Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
I keep two pairs of doves in my shed and one of their eggs hatched a few weeks ago. It looked like it had just crawled out of a dishwasher filter, covered in dry, pasty remnants of a vindaloo. Its eyes were an unpleasant blue, as if something from Avatar had just spat in it and they were veiled behind wrinkly scrotal flesh. Somehow though, it was ridiculously sweet in its own way. It just sat there, squeaking and flapping its stubby little flippers that would look more at home in a bowl of barbeque sauce. I can’t really review ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ without mentioning this bird since they’ve got a fair amount in common. They’re both mutants; twisted designs. Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel sings “semen stains the mountain tops” in the same way that Ray Davis sings “thank you for the days” and still makes it sound charmingly affectionate as well as charmingly weird. Mostly, ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ tugs at your heartstrings roughly because that’s all it knows how to do. It’s loud and noisy but still gentle and tender.  The opener ‘King Of Carrot Flowers’ is a fondly remembered snapshot of a troubled childhood; ‘Holland 1945’ is a rough-and-tumble elegy for Anne Frank over roaring distortion and rapturous trumpets whereas ‘Two Headed Boy’ parts one and two are as moving and heartfelt as solo guitar/vocal pieces get. Mangum totally immerses himself in his lyrics, sounding like he’s lived through every second of what he’s talking about and once he’s finished you’ll feel the same. ‘Two Headed Boy’ is almost alarming in how much emotion it (barely) contains. The lyrics are its most mangled moments, but its delivery makes their meaning universal; if you don’t well up when he sings “She will feed you tomatoes and radio wire” you’ve probably got the CD on mute. To cap it all, there’s a near-perfect love song in the title track that zooms in on death and the apocalypse and still sounds like something I’d like to have played at my wedding (no one will dance, but this is my wedding not yours). Twelve years on from this battered, brassy freak-folk masterwork, Neutral Milk Hotel have yet to release another record.

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