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Initially a stripped-down, acoustic project that sounded like Bazan had taken lessons in four-tracking from Lou Barlow, Pedro the Lion stretched its wings on 2000's Winners Never Quit, a concept-album-as-parable that traced the lives of two brothers over the course of eight songs. One brother is a lackluster ne'er-do-well, the other a supposedly God-fearing politician prone to drunken driving who slaughters his wife and himself by the end of the album. Bazan excels at morality tales like this; his storytelling weaves dialogue with variant perspectives that leave nothing in black and white.
Now, with Control, Bazan is shifting gears from introspective to extroverted, tackling social, moral and economic issues -- and the system that molds them. He attributes the switch to the outrage he experienced after the World Trade Organization summits and protests of the past few years. It's as if he woke up one day and realized the channel could be changed from Days of Our Lives to CNN. Pedro's sound has evolved as well, with the participation of Casey Foubert's multi-instrumental skills. Quiet and subtlety have given way to squall and bombast.
Control begins with "Options," a suspenseful, foreboding, slow rocker that passively examines mutually conditional love: "I could never divorce you/Without a good reason/And though I may never have to/It's good to have options." From there Bazan moves to promiscuity on "Rapture," a rollicking number that likens cheap sexual satisfaction to a religious experience. Parenting and family values are examined on "Progress," which takes place in a future where everything is perfect and automated, but where no technology can fix the family. The most sonically interesting track on the album, "Progress" begins in a sea of distortion, with Bazan singing through a vocoder, then devolves into a cleanly strummed dirge. Economics come front and center on "Indian Summer," a driving, synth-augmented track that compares the influence of corporate America to inescapable, omnipresent ultraviolet rays. Bazan sings of the affected children: "All the experts say you ought to start them young/That way they'll naturally love the taste of corporate cum." Pedro revisits the homicidal theme of Winners Never Quit on "Rehearsal," an angry, huge-sounding song full of threats and accusation, which concludes, "Now I see I did not know the half of what hatred and revenge were all about/And I guess I could be bigger but I'd rather make you pay."
After nine unsettling songs of moral poison and social corruption, Pedro the Lion concludes Control with the slow, dripping "Rejoice," which sums up the album in its single verse of lyrics: "Wouldn't it be so wonderful if everything were meaningless/But everything is so meaningful and most everything turns to shit/Rejoice." It's a fitting coda for an album obsessed with decay.