We've all seen movie adaptations of our favorite books, but pop music album adaptations are far rarer. The Tragic Treasury is based on Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I would go as far to say that it far surpasses the movie in terms of both quality and matching Snicket's indelible tone.
There are thirteen novels in Snicket's series, and each volume yields one song. In The Bad Beginning, we meet the vile Count Olaf and his grisly gang, who are attempting to separate the Baudelaire Orphans with their vast inheritance. It comes as no surprise that this sinister villain is the inspiration for "Scream and Run Away."
A shambling accordion kicks things off as The Gothic Archies' lead singer Stephin Merritt laments Olaf's hideous plan with clever rhymes such as "You might be thinking what a romp this is, but wait until you meet his accomplices."
The songs, originally written for each audiobook in the series, feature a wide variety of instrumentation, from violins to sitars to synthesizers. Each track is a lush garden of sonic layers, allowing you to discover new aspects on even your tenth listen.
It seems peculiar to use the dread-filled tales of three orphan siblings in mortal peril to frame your concept album, but if you enjoy the macabre humor of the books, you will enjoy these songs. And if anyone is up to the task of making darkness sound catchy, it is Stephin Merritt.
Merritt is best known for his band The Magnetic Fields, which is often described as indie pop. This catch-all phrase has been slapped upon so many musicians and bands that the term is almost rendered meaningless. Regardless, Merritt has several bands that feature varied instrumentation and sly lyricism. Merritt's deep baritone voice can be sardonic one moment, lovelorn the next, and playful right after that. His songwriting prowess is second to none, earning him praise from the likes of Peter Gabriel, among others.
The Tragic Treasury was actually written as a favor to Daniel Handler, who played accordion on The Magnetic Fields' masterful triple album 69 Love Songs and who wrote all of The Series of Unfortunate Events under his persnickety pen name. As far as favors go, it is quite successful. I sincerely hope that The Gothic Archies reunite for another album based on Snicket's latest series, All The Wrong Questions.
I'd like to leave you with my favorite interview and performance with the dryly morose Merritt, promoting the album on Good Day Atlanta. His failure to match his interviewer's chipper tone seems quite intentional as he offers a hard truth before performing the song from The Hostile Hospital entitled "Smile! No One Cares How You Feel." With a song like that, how can you not enjoy?