Lemony Snicket's 'Tragic Treasury'

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A Tragic Treasury, from the musical group the Gothic Archies, sets stories from the Lemony Snicket children's series to music.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

A Tragic Treasury is the new album by the Gothic Archies. That's an indie rock band led by the songwriter Stephin Merritt. The songs were written for the audiobook version of the Lemony Snicket children's book series. Christian Hoard has this review of the latest from the Gothic Archies.

(Soundbite of song "Scream and Run Away")

Mr. STEPHEN MERRITT (Gothic Archies): (Singing) The Count has an eye (unintelligible) and lives in a horrible place.

CHRISTIAN HOARD: Scream and Run Away was written and sung by Stephin Merritt, the highly prolific New York songwriter. It's the first track from the Gothic Archies' new record, A Tragic Treasury. Fans of a Series of Unfortunate Events, the children's book series by Merritt's buddy, Lemony Snicket, might already know the song. The Tragic Treasury is a collection of songs included on the audiobook versions of the Lemony Snicket books.

(Soundbite of song "Scream and Run Away")

Mr. MERRITT: (Singing) In whole of the soul of Count Olaf, there's no love when you see Count Olaf count to zero, then scream and run away.

HOARD: If Scream and Run Away doesn't sound like typical children's fair, well, neither are the Lemony Snicket books. They trace the evil-plagued adventures of three orphan children while reading like a warped version of Harry Potter. These songs make for a not-bad record, but it's largely the similarities to the books, their black humor and oblique sense of populism, that make The Tragic Treasury an interesting listen.

(Soundbite of song "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side")

HOARD: The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side is one of 69 songs Merritt released on a 1999 album called 69 Love Songs, an ambitious project that made Merritt one of the most acclaimed songwriters of his generation.

(Soundbite of song "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side")

Mr. MERRITT: (Singing) ...in the rain to bring you candy, and John would buy the gown for you to wear to the prom, with Tom(ph) the astronomer who named a star for you.

HOARD: The song proves Merritt can be incredibly inviting when he wants to, but much of the time he seems to approach songwriting with a kind of literary workmanship, an approach that yields songs with simple, workable melodies, brains and wry jokes. On a Tragic Treasury, he chases the process down dark corners. One chorus alternates die, die, die with run, run, run; and on Shipwrecked, Merritt claims, I'm a gentleman, should you get hurt, I'll make a tourniquet out of my shirt.

(Soundbite of song "Walking my Gargoyle")

Mr. MERRITT: Regal and (unintelligible), we walk down the street, the spring in our feet, whistling a tune. Hey there, little moon. How's Mr. Sun? I meet everyone walking my gargoyle...

HOARD: The Gothic Archies are one of Merritt's myriad bands, and their name is a joke on the Archies, the '60s bubblegum group. The best songs here, like this one, Walking My Gargoyle, live up to that gloom-pop name. These songs grew out of Merritt's friendship with Lemony Snicket himself, a.k.a. Daniel Handler. As performed by Handler during live readings, the songs have apparently done well with child audiences, thanks presumably to their specific references to the books and Halloween-ish, oddly friendly version of gloom and doom.

The album may not be Merritt's best work, but there's enough here to delight Merritt admirers or to darken up a mix tape or two. Might I recommend this bonus cut, We Are the Gothic Archies? Here Merritt salutes the Gothic Archies army while urging prospective fans to increase their hipness by buying one of band's t-shirts.

(Soundbite of song "We Are the Gothic Archies")

Mr. MERRITT: (Singing) We are the Gothic Archies, (unintelligible). Be sure to buy a record and don't forget to tip...

BRAND: That was Christian Hoard of Rolling Stone magazine. He reviewed the Gothic Archies' new album, A Tragic Treasury.

(Soundbite of song "We Are the Gothic Archies")

Mr. MERRITT: (Singing) ...the apogee and zenith of Gothic Archie-ness. We are the Gothic Archies...

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The Tragic Treasury: Songs From a Series of Unfortunate Events

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Album
The Tragic Treasury: Songs From a Series of Unfortunate Events
Artist
The Gothic Archies
Label
Nonesuch Records
Released
2006

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