The group's latest disc, Your Majesty, oversees an expansive musical kingdom, blending dance music slogans (Move your lips, pretty darling/Oh sugar, c'mon/Shake your hips) with prog-rock prose (The sun should drink every last tear/It floats above the casket's leer) and marrying sweetly sighed harmonies to crooked guitar leads. It's a lushly arranged opus that seems to predate 1999's Designing a Nervous Breakdown (an '80s throwback in itself) by a good two decades. Though the Anniversary's rugged, rock-oriented split EP from late last year served as a turn signal, Your Majesty still inspired road rage. (See "Those Muddling Kids," later in this column.) But after a two-month tour in support of its new material, the Anniversary reports that many of its subjects have remained loyal.
"At first, we thought it might be weird," admits keyboardist and vocalist Adrianne Pope. "But we're so confident about the record, and the response has been great." The group's confidence does come across on record -- singers Pope, Josh Berwanger and Justin Roelofs sell their melodies as if they were working on commission. But this isn't a half-assed collection of fool's-golden-oldies; it's a series of passionately rendered period pieces that could have been created only by musicians who'd been living and breathing vintage pop records for several sleep-deprived months. Perhaps because it was never attached to emo, the Anniversary feels uniquely free to absorb and lovingly recreate any genre. It wouldn't be surprising if the Anniversary returned next year with a folk-and-blues album; conversely, it would be shocking if the band returned to Your Majesty's '60s-pop stomping grounds.
Yet the Anniversary really hasn't abandoned its old lesson plan. Pope's keyboards still quiver behind pitch-perfect choruses, the group's guitars still tangle and its meticulously measured rhythmic foundations still keep these air-filled compositions from collapsing like a poorly grounded tent. "I get so much flak, like, 'Why don't you play your moog synthesizer anymore?'" Pope says. "It's all over the record, and I play it live, but it's not leading the songs, and I think that's a good thing.
"We're always trying to come up with ways to make our sets more exciting and fun," Pope explains. "We're already changing some songs from Your Majesty, and we've also been working on making some of Nervous Breakdown's tracks into really awesome live songs."
The Anniversary's affinity for tweaking its recorded material was born partially from necessity. An album thick with guitar effects, grand piano flourishes and overlapping elements, Your Majesty is a sensitive, studio-spawned animal, unable to survive in a concert atmosphere without altering its composition. Pope's keyboard simulates many of the absent elements, and the group compensates for the rest by sharpening its guitar hooks, bolstering its volume and engaging in distracting banter. Making the adaptation easier is the fact that most of Your Majesty's tracks, even the sprawling multilayered closer "The Death of the King," have humble organic origins.
"Josh and Justin wrote that song in our hotel's bathroom at 1 a.m.," Pope says. "Jim, Chris and I were sleeping, and they just sang, played their guitars and came up with it in the dark." The group shared a tiny two-bed room at a small hotel down the street from the studio, conditions that Pope says led to both occasional emotional claustrophobia ("It was pretty intense some nights") and frequent brainstorming. ("We didn't get a break from each other, so we were always talking about the record," Pope adds.)