I'll start out with the worst I can say, and get that out of the way: I'm not certain, but this could be the worst Pink Martini album to date. I can't say that definitively, because at least Hey Eugene! is more consistent than Hang On Little Tomato. "The Gardens of Sampson & Beasley" is just about the only Pink Martini song I really don't like (rhyming "sadness" with...um, "sadness," that's just not right). But while Hey Eugene! doesn't have a bad song on it (and I disagree, mostly, with the criticism of the title track, but more on that later), it does start to feel, not boring, but a bit rote, predictable.
But it might not be fair to criticize Pink Martini for being predictable, when what they are being is predictably eclectic. Am I really describing an album that contains a song like "Dosvedanya Mio Bombino" rote? I think the problem is, Pink Martini, as wide-ranging as their influences are, still manages to craft a distinct sonic signature. When we had to wait seven years between albums, the return of their distinct sound was welcomed. This time, the wait was only two-and-a-half years, and now I'm whining that this album sounds too much like their other work. I'm an ingrate.
So there, now I'm beating myself up for saying something bad about this album. But I should clarify, when I say Hey Eugene! is their worst album, I am comparing it to two of my all-time favorite albums. I absolutely adore Pink Martini, and Sympathique is a monumental achievement. And while Hang On Little Tomoto isn't consistently genius, 95% of it is still damn good. And while I just haven't been able to get as excited by Hey Eugene! as I was when I first heard the other albums, I must say the songwriting is stronger on the new album, with the vintage songs and the new material merging seamlessly (they always did, musically, but the lyrics were usually a giveaway of the band's original material).
Of course, that seamless quality is destroyed by the title track, about a guy who didn't call vocalist China Forbes back after meeting her at a party (note to Eugene: What the hell is wrong with you?!). I've noticed the reviews have been pretty universal in pinpointing that track as the weakest moment on the album. I would disagree, though it's certainly not the best song here, either. On this album, Pink Martini is inspired by Hollywood, Japan, Peru, Egypt, France, Italy, Russia, and more. If they want to be inspired by New York hipsters for one song, why not? The song might hurt the fantasy of the album, the exotic realms, detached from time. But even if you're brought back to the here and now for a few minutes, in that here and now, you're listening to a Pink Martini album. It doesn't get much better than that.
UPDATE: I created a Pink Martini playlist, with an emphasis on the new album, plus some stuff I like from the other albums. Enjoy!