Concept albums can be tricky beasts. There's a great deal of artistic credibility associated with many of these projects, but also a general feeling that these records are less likely to succeed from a musical standpoint. Personally, I tend to avoid albums with an exceptionally strong concept or story running through them; I'm just not frequently willing to wrap my head around the often obtuse tale being conveyed to me over 10 or 12 tracks. I can think of some notable exceptions, however, and Benjy Ferree's latest, "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee Bobby Dee" can now be added to that short list.
Ferree has crafted what could be considered a tribute to the late Bobby Driscoll, the child star who portrayed Peter Pan in the 1953 Disney movie and then faded into obscurity, poverty, and drugs after being discarded as a less marketable teenager, eventually dying at the young age of 31. A strange concept, to be sure, but one that is carried out with style and confidence. The album's unique story, quirky production, and gritty rock presentation make for a fascinating musical journey unlike anything you've heard before.
While I don't pretend to understand the wealth of references and odd lyrical phrases, some of them are fairly obvious. Peter Pan, "In the name of lost boys everywhere" and Pinocchio, "My conscience is a cricket, every time I curse you know he gives me a ticket," are both referred to in opener "Tired of Being Good." Elsewhere, Ferree refers to the ruthlessness of showbiz in "Big Business" and "Blown Out," the awkwardness of youth in "When You're 16," and "Whirlpool of Love," and a general feeling of frustration and loneliness throughout the record.
Ferree's keeps the emotion in the record palpable with his fresh and exciting rock sound, pushing things forward even when the lyrics become too obtuse to be worth figuring out. Quite a bit of the classic rock 'n' roll genre is covered in 'Bobby Dee,' like the honkey-tonk rock of "Big Business," the bluesy "Fear," complete with soulful choir vocals, and the White Stripes-esque "Great Scott!" Ferree's voice, which hovers somewhere between Freddy Mercury and Jack White, delivers even the most absurd of lines in a convincing manner, and his arrangements keep you on your toes. He's also quite the musician, crafting raw guitar hooks that make the music immediate and intense.
'Bobby Dee' is probably too bizarre and complex for some listeners to love, but Ferree has managed to create something that is not only unique, but also easy to appreciate and, most importantly, enjoy in a more casual way. However you present it, rock 'n' roll music this good is worth experiencing.