The Tiger Lilies epitomize an underground hipness that dwells on the fringe of a straight world; this is a band for people who think Tom Waits and Nick Cave are too commercial!
The Tiger Lilies are clever and devious to the point where if you don't get the joke or the underlying moral-construct you will probably find them shocking, offensive...downright weird. You have my condolences. There is whole nation out there who mistook the Nirvana screed as a motto:
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
Without curiosity, we are always bored. The essential ingredients of our humanity are thinking and feeling. The Jack Daniels stupors, MDA raves or opiate glazes are all just vacations from our uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. You will never feel comfortable with this band; you won't be tapping your foot or jumping up to dance.
Adrian Huge, Adrian Stout, and Martyn Jacques founded the band in the early '90's, drawing heavily on elements of cabaret, vaudeville, and modern theatre—particularly Brecht, Artaud, and Genet. When Leonard Cohen wrote, “The monkey and the plywood violin, I practised every night, now I'm ready,”this is the music he envisioned, the gypsy organ grinder and Beckett's tramp/clowns, Vladimir and Estragon keeping time.
Vocalist and accordionist Martyn Jacques, who studied opera for many years, employs a multi-octave range which soars between a Tiny Tim and Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons) falsetto and a Tom Waits growl. Some of the albums use twisted children's stories as their base, Edward Gorey (The Gorey End with Kronos Quartet) and the 1845 Der Struwwelpeter/Shockheaded Peter by German psychiatrist and children's author, Heinrich Hoffmann. Hoffman’s “Little Suck-Thumb,” a tale in which a young boy is warned not to suck his thumb or the scissor-man will come and cut off his thumbs, is gleefully retold by the The Tiger Lilies. They've also covered The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Brecht's Threepenny Opera, The Little Match Girl, Sinderella, and Farmyard Filth. I'll never know how they got the latter cover past the censors...it must pay to fly so low that no one notices.
I must admit the album Cockatoo Prison (2011) was a challenge even for a fan like me. Steeped in Theatre of Cruelty, Jacques is in full Our Lady of the Flowers flight, channelling the various lost voices of men behind bars. We have the lament of a lowly thief, envious of the exalted prison status of killers in Murderers Are King(“How I worship murderers, cut-throats they are kings/I am just a thief on the floor my body flings/The lowest of the low”). But particularly disturbing is the buoyant bounce of a song like “Baby Killer” or the other sexual deviants encountered on this horrific tour of life's underbelly. If a statement is being made here it is this: when we stare into the abyss, the face glaring back is ultimately as human as our own.