Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s have barely been around four years, and they’ve already got one helluva complicated catalog. Much-blogged-about debut The Dust of Retreat exists in two forms: the original 2005 release and a 2006 re-recording. And now, its follow-up also arrives, confusingly, in two versions: Animal!—the band-authorized take, pressed on vinyl—and Not Animal, an Epic Records-sanctioned edition, sold on CD. (Both are also available as digital downloads.)
Few albums could live up to all that backstory, and Not Animal never comes close. Apparently, Epic wanted Margot to sound like Radiohead so desperately, the label hung the Indiana eight-piece out like a third-rate Coldplay. Seriously, try to listen to vapid, twee pop tunes like “Cold, Kind and Lemon Eyes” and “As Tall as Cliffs” without thinking, Keane! Only the eerie “Hello Vagina” and the horn-dotted “Pages Written on a Wall” are the least bit surprising, so that by the time 12th track “Hip Hip Hooray” closes with some oddball studio wizardry, it’s hard to imagine anyone caring enough to cheer.
Expectedly, Animal! is better, despite overlapping four of the same cuts (fortunately, “Vagina” is one of them; sadly, so are “Lemon Eyes” and “Cliffs”). This time we get more generous doses of electric guitar, and vocalist Richard Edwards doesn’t come off as quite so much of a wimp (no joke: On Not Animal, he actually sings “I can’t talk, ’cause I’d up and wig out, too”). Still, all told the whole shebang is a marked retreat from Retreat, with these So and So’s never coming close to going nuclear.