The Great Pretender is the second record from Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman’s side project Mini Mansions. The record itself is a complexion of dark ideals portrayed through rock, that if it were a confectionary, it would identify only as sticky fudge, blissful 70s melodies and powerful synth soaked ballads.
Album opener ‘Freakout!’ is probably the best modern interpretation of T-Rex to date; its ‘Children of the Revolution’-esque melisma will lift your soul from the floor and place it carefully in the midst of mild euphoria. And while its bouncy bass lines and condensed guitar sounds take form, you’re almost dared not to try and sing the lyrics to ‘Spirit in The Sky’ along with the vocal melody that Mini Mansions have formed. First single ‘Death is A Girl’ comes next with a darker tone altogether. Synths take precedent here and gives off an immediate eerie feel, think The Cure creating another Pornography sounding record to the visuals of cheesy horror movies, intertwined with the psych-pop of The Horrors’ Skying makes for a subtle juxtaposition from verse to chorus. The latter’s lyric, ‘’Death is a girl/and she’s only one dance away’’, brings in a lyricism that is expected from Shuman’s main project.
‘Any Emotions’ begins slowly with a simple repetitive guitar melody that wouldn’t be out of place either on a toned down Wolf Alice track, until the track takes a left turn for the dream-pop lane; its tropical guitar and synth lines echo a modern take on a Beach Boys ballad, which is fitting considering Brian Wilson lends his vocals. The track again shows its capricious ways by slipping and sliding into Tame Impala B-side territory, but this is said with all positivity intended – the song comes to a fitting conclusion.
Then comes the biggest contradiction of them all – ‘Vertigo’, the albums highlight and yet probably the most out of place song on the record. Queens of the Stone Age-esque piano keys start the track, but T-Rex tinged guitars dominate the chorus once again. Then, the almost unfathomable happens – Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner turns up to lend a vocal hand. Turner chimes in in typical slick fashion; his Frank Sinatra and Elvis infused vocal turns this into a glam ballad where he describes a ‘’Miss been there did that’’, who he invites in no uncertain circumstances for them to ‘’make love to one another’’ after she ‘’showed him how the night was supposed to sound’’. Turner’s contribution is a welcome change, but does almost have you at sixes and sevens wondering if the track had the power to appear on the record had he have not contributed to it.
All in all, The Great Pretender has its moments, some blissful, some interesting and some damn right capricious. It’s an interesting second record, but you can’t help but feeling like it needed lighter psyche-pop moments like the ones that appear on B-side ‘Geronimo’.