By Madame Pamita
Madame Pamita's 'Wax Works' debut is one of those rare CDs where it really isn't about the music. The thirteen tracks that make up her musical debut are completely eclipsed by this album's backstory, method of production, packaging, and the press release that comes complete with tales of Madame Pamita's live performances.
Firstly, Madame Pamita is a medium and, through the help of "euphonious prognostication" she's co-written her album with "those who have moved onto the great beyond."
Secondly, 'Wax Works' was recorded directly onto wax, using a recording horn once owned by American inventor Thomas Edison, in a one-shot recording process. There's no post-production and a deafening, scratched vinyl-esque hiss runs throughout the whole of the record, with plenty of scratches and pops thrown in for good measure.
Thirdly, when Madame Pamita performs 'Wax Works' live, she delivers her songs alongside live tarot readings, and her live show is touted as 'Madame Pamita and Her Fortune Telling Ukulele Band.'
And, lastly, there's the packaging. The CD comes in a cardboard sleeve, where every song on the track listing comes complete with an explanatory subheading. For example, track five 'Do Whatever You Please' is sub-headed as 'A Minute Digression of Great Import Directing The Reader To The Secret Font of Unfettered Happiness.'
But, it doesn't end there. The CD sleeve comes presented in a cardboard box that's wedged full of physic-themed gifts. For your money, you get a tarot card and accompanying hand-written fortune; an old American cent (a lucky one, I presume) and a wax-sealed envelope with an origami fortune teller inside.
Right from the start, this has 'what to buy for the person who has everything' written all over it. If you know anyone who frequents Shared Earth; owns a rubber-bound notebook with 'I used to be a car tyre' emblazoned across the front; or dabbles in crystals, then they'd love unwrapping this on their birthday.
Finally, onto the music and, of course, the method of production was always going to be a problem, as that ever-present hiss blots out some of the vocals and musical accompaniments. It means that 'Wax Works' isn't really a CD you can listen to for enjoyment, as you would another, better-produced recording.
But, first track, 'Madame Pamita's Theme Song' battles valiantly against the lack of production to effectively set the tone of the album. A whistling musical saw and banjo provide the only accompaniment to Madame Pamita's parlour-sing-along style vocals. Not only does it sound charmingly back-to-basics, but its lyrical content of elixirs, fortune tellers, and magic have a quaint, escapism appeal. That this album has novelty value is undeniable.
A short, spoken word introduction accompanies each song. Most are by Madame Pamita herself, although a handful are introduced by co-vocalist Patrick Weise. The major problem with this introduction, is how oddly inflected it is. Pauses crop up where you wouldn't expect them, and there's something incredibly irritating about the way both vocalists pronounce "Pamita." Halfway through the album, that introduction will set your teeth on edge.
By second track 'Cocaine,' the introduction hasn't quite reached supremely-annoying status yet, but the production is even worse. The vocals are almost unintelligible and the banjo is partially obscured behind the track's pops and crackles. What you can hear seems catchy enough, though.
Things pick up for 'My Southern Can Is Mine,' which is the strongest of the thirteen tracks. An infectious, sunshine-soaked country-and-western sing song with plenty of sassy attitude, it has a very quaint, old-Americana appeal.
'Do Whatever You Please' and 'Good-By, Miss Liza Jane' follow firmly in 'My Southern Can Is Mine's footsteps. 'Do Whatever You Please' is a sassy little banjo-led rattle, with each verse ending in a very pointed banjo note that'll ensure this ditty will get stuck firmly in your head.
The musically-similar 'Good-By, Miss Liza Jane's lyrics from a bygone era are guaranteed to make you smile, but Madame Pamita strikes a few duff notes that makes it glaringly obvious this is a one-shot recording.
At the other end of the scale, the downbeat vocals and softer strumming of 'Love Is Good' and 'Mother Was A Sporting Girl' sees these songs struggle to break through that relentless recorded-on-wax hiss. Madame Pamita is definitely at her best when she sticks to the quaint, toe-tapping, 1930's style sing songs.
'Moving Day' is quite possibly the only song ever written about ripping up a carpet and piling your worldly possessions on the front "stoop." Added to this are some very odd vocals, as Madame Pamita warbles "m-m-m-moooooo-ving day" and yelps about "skadoo"-ing. 'Moving Day' is a song with character to spare.
Patrick Weise joins Madame Pamita for the call and response vocals of spring-heeled banjo ditty 'He's in the Jailhouse Now.' Weise's vocals are mostly used for comical effect. In response to Madame Pamita's observation that the song's injured party has a "ball and chain around his feet," Weise quips "and we ain't talking about his wife!" in likeably cheesy fashion. Weise's contributions are a thoroughly welcome change at this late point in the album.
The ghostly strains of the musical saw make another appearance on 'Willie the Chimney Sweeper.' It's a unique and spine-tingling sound, but Madame Pamita takes things a step too far with some "wah-wah-waaaaaah, wah-wah-waaaaaah" vocals that are probably supposed to add to the atmosphere, but are unintentionally comical.
'No Bad News' carries over the musical saw from the previous track, but this time it's relegated to a trembling background trill that, when put together with upbeat banjo-picking and optimistic vocals, brings a nervous energy to the song. A lively, goodtimes tune.
"Epilogue" track 'Malaria' alternates between the banjo and what sounds exactly like someone tapping a cane on a stone floor. Patrick Weise also takes over vocal duties. Tongue-in-cheek and exceedingly kooky, 'Malaria' will leave you bemused and amused in equal measures.
'Wax Works' is almost impossible to judge on its musical merits. It almost seems like recording this on wax was a bit of a cop-out. The hiss may add character, but it also negates the need for any musical depth and variety, as you can barely hear the music. Madame Pamita's vocals are decent enough, and what lyrical content you can hear is quirky and charming, but there's the sneaking suspicion that a better production would reveal how paper-thin the whole thing is.
Still, 'Wax Works' is an utterly unique release, with an intriguing backstory and lovingly put-together packaging. The perfect novelty gift for someone, although don't expect them to give the CD more than a customary listen.