The Rope’s Lillian in many ways reminded me of Todd Phillips’s Joker, which I saw the same day that I first heard this album. Okay, it’s not a lightning rod of unnecessary controversy, but it is; however, a work of art that is stylistically indebted to the 70s and 80s. Just as Joker owes a lot to Martin Scorsese, Lillian is a modern-day tribute to post-punk bands like The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy. What differs The Rope’s music from the THOUSANDS of similar bands out there is how eerily of that period they are but in a way that is enticing and nostalgic without being derivative. Sometimes a band does their homework so well that it’s hard not to give them a good grade.
Now you might be thinking I’m exaggerating about this extreme post-punk influence, so as an exercise, I encourage you to put this on for a friend and tell them that this is a long lost 80s classic. I 100% guarantee that they will believe you. The rhythm section of Sam Richardson and Ben Rickel replicate the relentless driving rhythm of The Sisters of Mercy, guitarist Michael Browning could be passed off as Jonny’s Marr’s long lost relative, but the biggest throwback comes from the vocal stylings of Jesse Hagon. He’s got the low baritone croon of David Bowie circa “Cat People” and when he yells, he conjures the stoic but tortured composure of Bob Mould during Husker Du’s Zen Arcade era. He’s mysterious, brooding and sexually suggestive; you know… all the makings of a classic, old-school frontman.
Again, what’s remarkable is that you’ll never find any of this generic. Yeah, it sounds like it could have been blasting from your mom’s Walkman back during her goth phase in high school, but it also, like some of your mom’s music, is pretty timeless. I could easily imagine the dreary “Eyes” and death-obsessed “Given to the Gun” blasting in someone’s earbuds nowadays as they miserably toggle through their Instagram after a particularly monotonous day of work. My pick for the album’s surefire classic though is “Gravity”; a song so romantically wounded and aching with such longing that the beautiful synth line will be the only thing stopping you from falling into a pit of despair.
This brings us to the one downfall of Lillian; there is very little variety. In this way, it closely resembles a depressive episode. Its tone is so consistently bleak that it might leave you completely numb by the end. That might have very been The Rope’s intention, but this renders the album too top-heavy and the last few songs are a chore to get through, which is a shame considering how blistering “Now You Know” is when taken on its own. The only relief is the upbeat “Bridge” with its borderline poppy chorus and Sam Richardson’s infectious and bouncy bass groove. Sadly, it appears early on, when it should have been placed later to break up the pacing a little bit better.
All in all, Lillian is a well-researched homage that is strongly executed. You could certainly accuse it of lacking original ideas, in the same way you could accuse Joker, but when something is this well-performed and emotionally affecting than who cares? If a piece of art causes a reaction than its creators have done their job. Whether you lived during the 80s or not, you will react to this music. Just try not to listen to it TOO much or you might find yourself having to up your dosage or getting on anti-depressants.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Mike Milito