Kevin and Christina make out in a car at the airport, flipping off the police officer that tells them to keep moving. Kevin and Christina discuss taking ecstasy as couple’s therapy. Kevin and Christina break down and then reconnect. The new love we heard about on the last of Montreal record, White is Relic/Irrealis Mood, is settling. If that was the falling-in-love record, then this is the staying-in-love record. That was the easy part; this is the interesting part, the challenging part, the next chapter of Kevin Barnes’ autobiographical album streak, UR FUN.
The public diary that started with of Montreal’s classic album Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? has continued into a growing string of increasingly personal works. On UR FUN, Barnes is more candid than ever, presenting ten concise electro-pop songs that expose the depths of his current life, his private thoughts—both optimistic and brooding—and his passionate relationship with songwriter Christina Schnieder of Locate S,1. This ramped-up vulnerability has inspired Barnes to strip his stage persona of costumes and drag, just appearing as himself on recent tours for the first time in many years.
After several albums recorded with collaborators and various band members, Barnes opted to record this one completely alone. In his home studio in Athens, Georgia, Barnes isolated himself in creative hibernation, working obsessive 12-plus hour days arranging manic synth and drum machine maps on a computer screen with bouncy, melodic basslines, glam guitars and layered vocal harmonies. Inspired by albums like Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual and Janet Jackson’s Control, Barnes set out to make UR FUN into the kind of album where every song could be a single, complete with huge hooky choruses and nostalgic dance grooves. The result is an unstoppably fun album that could also pass for a carefully sequenced greatest-hits collection if taken out of context.
UR FUN contains a fundamental contradiction that will be familiar to of Montreal fans. The songs have a youthful, contemporary dance-pop feel, but contain dense, multidimensional, adult lyrics. The album’s opener and first single, “Peace To All Freaks” is a “protest song against totalitarianism, familial terrorism and wastefulness in all its forms” (says Barnes) that expresses love to the outcasts and the gentle people in this world, leaving us with this reminder: “Hush, hush/ Don’t let’s be cynical/ don’t let’s be bitter/ If you feel like you can’t do it for yourself then do it for us”. On “Polyaneurism”, Barnes playfully meditates on the ups and downs of polyamory and unconventional relationships: “Playing musical lovers is starting to feel kind of kitsch/ if you want monogamy are you just like some basic bitch?” According to Barnes, the song “Get God’s Attention by Being an Atheist” is about “the pleasures of childlike destruction and reckless joy seeking.”
Literary and cultural references on UR FUN run thick. In the same manner that Barnes’ lyrics turned thousands of listeners onto the obscene French novel The Story of the Eye in the past, UR FUN packs nods as diverse and obscure as the films of Itallian horror filmmaker Mario Bava, queer novel Horse Crazy by Gary Indiana, Panamanian pop star El General, 80’s sci-fi movie Liquid Sky, Big Star’s cover of “Femme Fatale,” French death metal group Death Throne, and the beautiful Brazilian love song “Cucurucucu Paloma” by Caetano Veloso, to name just a few.
UR FUN’s final moments bring the self-examination of the record full circle with some darker numbers that lament a lost friendship and slips of mental clarity. If the album’s bleak ending leaves you feeling hopeless, flip the record over again and remind yourself “Hush, hush, don’t let’s be negative.” This is all for fun after all.