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Tickled Pink

For the Legendary Pink Dots, madness is a soothing refuge from an intolerable world.

"I'm proud of that one," he says. "It's like this massive three-and-a-half-hour psychedelic voyage. It's meant to be like drugs without the drugs, and somehow I think it's successful. I worked on it every day for like a year, and honestly, I haven't been able to listen to it since it came out. It took too much out of me."

Ka-Spel can credit some of that exhaustion to the release of fifteen solo albums and a half-dozen side projects, including Tear Garden, with Skinny Puppy's cEvin Key, an improvisational outfit called Mimer, and collaborations with Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) and David Tibet (Psychic TV). And even though the Dots' word-of-mouth popularity dwells below the commercial radar, their touring schedule remains relentless. Along with co-founder Knight, the current drummerless lineup includes reed phenom Niels Van Hornblower, Dutch guitarist Erik Drost and soundboard/production wizard Raymond Steeg. With a solid reputation for turning live shows into shamanic theater complete with candles and incantations, the Dots appeal to a fairly broad spectrum -- especially industrial-minded goths who go fetal over the mention of a dying swan. Throw in Ka-Spel's occasional crystal-ball gazing, and you've got a formula for phantasmic intrigue.

"I can't deny it, because it seems to be true so often," Ka-Spel says of his soothsaying tendencies. "But there again, I don't think it's down to any mystical property. I don't like to say that I'm more tuned in than anybody, but things that do find their way into the lyrics are a little strange. But I won't be pretentious enough to say that I'm any kind of prophet. That was always meant to be humor."

Dot to dot: Phil "The Silverman" Knight (from left), 
Niels Van Hornblower, Edward Ka-Spel, Raymond 
Steeg and Erik Drost are the Legendary Pink Dots.
Ryan Moore
Dot to dot: Phil "The Silverman" Knight (from left), Niels Van Hornblower, Edward Ka-Spel, Raymond Steeg and Erik Drost are the Legendary Pink Dots.

Even so, a tune called "The Unlikely Event," from 2001's All the King's Horses, evokes shades of Nostradamus: "I hope that you can hear me/Because they're screaming in the aisle/The stewardess said, 'Turn that phone off!'/So I smiled, blew a smoke ring... Just called to say goodbye/I won't be home for dinner/Goodbye/Lay a wreath upon that grassy knoll for me."

"This was written before the whole September 11th thing by about six months," Ka-Spel asserts. "But is it so surprising? There's nothing odd about that, because that's the world we live in. I just observe the world and think this is a scenario that's very likely to occur -- and ultimately, very sadly, it did occur. It just really underlines how tragic this planet is right now."

Ka-Spel's gloomy outlook brightens somewhat on the Dots' new release, The Whispering Wall. Through typically clever wordplay and densely layered arrangements, the disc explores the link between bondage and television ("Soft Toy"), dabbles in noir thriller ("King of a Small World") and pokes fun at the disappointing world of adult entertainment ("06").

"That's the prefix for basically every phone-sex number and dating service in Holland," Ka-Spel says. "It's just a little flight of fancy, you know. Sort of like you never get what you want. Just a little bit of fun, really. It's not from actual experience. I've never phoned an 06 number in my life."

During less randy moments, Wall finds its hapless narrator trapped in his own flat, unable to punch in the exit code when the power goes down ("The Divide"). On the morbid lullaby "Peek-A-Boo," Ka-Spel offers up yet another disturbing, childish sing-along: "Plucking on your nerves/With catgut pliers/Picking on the hamstring/One two three/Push-pull the pan into the fire/Make a little guess/Yes, yes, that's me."

Served up hot, pink and crispy with a generous side of gallows humor, the Dots' umpteenth full-length provides one more piece of an ever-expanding jigsaw puzzle and further supports Ka-Spel's simple credo: Sing while you may.

"It's meant to be an optimistic statement in these desperate times," Ka-Spel insists. "The speed of life is almost excruciating. It's like a boulder that's rolling down a mountain, gathering momentum all the time. Right now I'm sort of taking that to its natural conclusion -- to saturation overload.

"I don't think the end of the world is around the corner," he adds. "What would be the point then? And ultimately, I do believe there's a point. I mean, you have to. You have to believe in your own species. I also have children, so I have to believe in the future for them. So 'Sing while you may' is like 'Be glad you live in this time right here.' It's damned exciting. We're living through the most significant time in the history of the planet. Sing while you may. You don't know how long you've got."

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