What Is All This Sweet Work Worth?, the first album from Philadelphia’s Milton and the Devils Party, combines lyrical complexity with powerful pop hooks. But this is no snotty adolescent parade of undergraduate pseudo-intellectualism. Sharp and catchy, this CD deserves a broad audience.
Some songs are lyrically complex and referential, like “Heathen Eden,” and some are actual literature (“To Jane,” with lyrics cribbed from Percy Bysshe Shelley). But much of this CD takes on standard pop themes, often with striking wit. A song like the driving “Perfect Breasts” is, well, what its title suggests, a rock anthem in praise of tits. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Daniel Robinson’s songs about personal relationships tend to be more biting than romantic (“End of the Affair” (mp3), “Not To Talk”), and many of the songs are filtered through personae you wouldn’t want to meet, necessarily (“Ugly American,” “Give You the Creeps”). I certainly wouldn’t argue that the songs here are out of the pop milieu; they’re smart, not inaccessible.
But these songs are also drenched in melody, with a real grit and crunch along the way, largely thanks to guitarist Pat Manley and drummer Martin Evans. A lot of the guitar work is sharp, although some riffs can be easily attributed to a specific artist and sometimes nailed down to a specific song.
I picked up this CD on my own, drawn solely by the literary references in the band’s name (William Blake) and the album’s title (Shelley). But for pop fans, the erudition shouldn’t be an impediment. Trust me: you’ll love it even if you don’t completely “get” it. And remember: the Romantic poets were the first rock stars.