Franz Nicolay - St. Sebastian of the Short Stage [10 inch] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Franz Nicolay

St. Sebastian of the Short Stage [10 inch] (2009)

Team Science

Having opened 2009 with his solo studio debut, Major General, Franz Nicolay, he of Hold Steady, World/Inferno Friendship Society and awesome mustache notoriety, is closing the year out with St. Sebastian of the Short Stage. In a lot of ways, the four-song 10-inch feels like an extension of Major General. For starters, half of the material could have appeared on that album -- "New England" was recorded in 2008, "I Just Want to Love" in 2001. Energy-wise, St. Sebastian is broken up into uppers ("The Fun Side") and downers ("The Depressing Side"), just like General. Stylistically, these tunes are in the same cabaret punk vein.

So in short, St. Sebastian will sound great if you loved Major General, and OK if you didn't. Personally, I think it's a keeper, with "the Fun Side" standing out. "New England" should be familiar to Big D and the Kids Table fans as track 11 of The Gipsy Hill EP. Same Jonathan Richman cover; different vibe. It opens with a debate between Nicolay and the Dresden Dolls about the best part of New England. They soon agree that the whole Northeast is pretty great and cut into a snappy cover, as Nicolay, Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione take turns extolling the virtues of New England on the mic. Coupled with the trio's take on Johnny Cash's "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" from All Aboard: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, it's clear Nicolay, Palmer and Viglione have great chemistry together. Please record a split. Or do a Dolls/Inferno tour. That would be cool also too as well.

Viglione returns for "The Ballad of Hollis Wadsworth Mason Jr.", a song Nicolay wrote in response to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen for the Bushwick Book Club, an ongoing project in which musicians respond creatively to books. He specifically wrote the song about Under the Hood, and the lyrics read as such.

It's hard to slag "the Depressing Side" when it's so honestly labeled. In the liner notes, Nicolay almost sounds ashamed of "I Just Want to Love" -- "What do you want, I was 23 and not sleeping much," he writes. It does make one wonder why he bothered releasing it. With such overly earnest humdingers as "I just want to love / Is that so much to ask? / I just want to tear up at the movies / Lie out in the grass," the song is definitely the weakest of the four. "When the War Came," by contrast, is a little less overbearing, but it doesn't compare to "the Fun Side." C'mon, it's called "the Fun Side"! Fun Did you like "Jeff Penalty"? Are you addicted to bad ideas? Cool; hop on the first side of St. Sebastian. Those who like the taste of their tears mixed with their beers can keep the flipside.