Pink Mountaintops


(Jagjaguwar; 2004)

By Dom Sinacola | 28 November 2007

Between Chicago and St. Joe, on the relentlessly demeaning mess that can be I-94, a sign warns you of incoming licentiousness: “The Lion’s Den, WORLD’S LARGEST ADULT WAREHOUSE, 17 Miles.” Within the course of---if you’re lucky--seventeen minutes, you'll arrive at the mecca of the mighty pornography industry. Some will stop as collectors, others as tolerant of curiosity; a dabbler here, a pervert there. Either way, seventeen minutes is all one has before a massive dose of porn leaps above the horizon.

Allowing for obvious phallic innuendos, Stephen McBean’s new long player, The Pink Mountaintops, attempts to erect itself as a kind of colloquy with the underworld, by means of his penis. Although the band and record share a name that would seem to display a knack for double entendre, McBean’s approach to sex is as straightforward as it is epic, straddling the line that separates spiritual union from unadulterated ugly bumpin’. Just as the Lion’s Den flaunts its dirty mountain over the fields of the Midwestern Bible Belt, the Pink Mountaintops seek to fuck the bejeezus out of the erotic darkness in our heads. Delicacy is what distinguishes the successful PMTPs songs from the obnoxious cuts, but with a short eight-song length, this album eventually fails to squirt a lasting statement into any sexual debate.

“Bad Boogie Ballin’” begins the wetfest with a melodica sashay, lustily tinged by hints of Clinic’s neo-gutter cache. A fever dream of copulation, the song works by leaving the heat of the moment to work inside of the macabre disco beat instead of in the shock of explicit or garish lyrics. Mountaintops continues its promise of squalid fantasy in the second track, “Rock’n’Roll Fantasy,” by finding McBean moaning: “When I came all over myself/ Wish I came all over your blouse.” A languid guitar line does little to make the song any more imaginative than the singer‘s fantasy, but there is something fascinating about listening in on a confession that illustrates one man’s deepest desires as no more than crude release.

“I (Fuck) Mountains” is the centerpiece of the album’s metaphysical longing to branch out on horny musings. Tuned into a marshy grandeur, bongos and a plaintive keyboard part the mist for McBean’s lofty statements: “I fuck lakes/ And I’ve screwed some fakes/ And I‘ve licked and sucked/ The pink mountaintops.” A great song, “Mountains” laces the earth with sexuality, emasculating shame into a wholly plastic concept. For the Pink Mountaintops, the vaginal canal is as natural as the path of the Colorado River.

Once “I (Fuck) Mountains” fades behind a rosy glow, a canned beat announces the arrival of the doo-wop tragedy, “Can You Do That Dance?” “Sweet ‘69” follows in similarly misguided fashion, copping the “I Want Candy” riff, bricking it in lazy reverb, and spitting atonal brain-jizz into the cracks. The most unnerving mistake, though, is the cover of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere,” bleeding the original of its deft noir and raping the Animal Collective in the process. As the closing piece, it leaves a raunchy aftertaste.

Delicacy is more than a repetitive lull or whispered tales of backroom slobbering; The Pink Mountaintops is just not able to balance transcendent ecstasy with crotch grit. In “Leslie,” Stephen McBean croons like My Morning Jacket's Jim James being coaxed by Delilah to cut off all of his hair, and “Tourist In Your Town” meanders dully before reaching heights even Stephen Merritt could like, but both can only meddle with an overpowering hollowness. If it wasn’t for “I (Fuck) Mountains,” the disc could be an apt investigation of one night stands and meaningless balling, but the thrust of grander environments than a shadow crusted bed leaves the rest of Mountaintops squandered in sleepy muck.

And the Lion’s Den continues to compliment the dusky Michigan plains, a wooden behemoth that rolls with the landscape. The superstore appears from the earth rather than against it. The Pink Mountaintops could point to more satisfying climaxes in the future, exalting their obsessions with sex by drenching each hump in connotations of a broader human condition, but McBean’s fantasy amounts to nothing much more than seventeen minutes of foreplay before cumming on a stoned roadie’s blouse.