One of Christianity's virtues is misericordia: mercy of the heart, a sense of pious compassion for your fellow human being. Seeing as how Pedro the Lion's (due at the Bluebird Theater on Tuesday, July 6) David Bazan is a self-confessed Christian, it's a sin that he doesn't take more pity on his listener; his fourth full-length is as torturously dull and seemingly endless as a week on the rack during the Spanish Inquisition. That Bazan named the album Achilles Heelalmost isn't funny. Could he somehow be unaware of the fact that PTL's most glaring weakness -- his hammering monotone -- is laid utterly defenseless here? After all, the guy's never been less than clever. Since 1998's It's Hard to Find a Friend, his wry, incisive lyrics have maintained a consistency as unwavering as his one-and-a-half-note vocal range. But on Achilles, as Bazan's mechanical strumming crawls along like the hour hand of a waiting-room clock, his own words hamstring him. Perhaps as a check on some subconscious evangelical impulses, the track "Foregone Conclusions" accuses, "You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord/To hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the fuck up." Hmm, there's an idea. And it doesn't help that, in the midst of belting out his bland, static folk pop, he sounds like Coldplay's Chris Martin warbling around a mouthful of marbles. In the end, it isn't PTL's celebrated aura of despair that sabotages its music -- it's Bazan's inability to convincingly, or even palatably, articulate it. Ask the man himself: On "The Fleecing," while a barely noticeable variation on Achilles' sole, ceaseless rhythm limps along beneath him, the songwriter whimpers listlessly, "I don't feel it/Oh, no, I don't feel it." We're right there with you, Dave.
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