“Once upon a midnight dreary,
While I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…”
— A.E. Poe, The Raven
That’s how the poem begins, drawing a pall of melancholy over us with its first syllables. This audio book, however, takes a little more time getting there. As if reflecting the distance from this mood we might be starting, the first tones are of bouncy pop music as the company and title are introduced. Then comes Bill Mills’ voice, warm, and rich as hickory smoke, leading us down into darkness with a brief, stylish bio of the author.
When the first line finally arrives, I have to admit, I cringe for just a second. The slow, broken delivery—scattering audible periods where the text shows, at most, commas—has just a whiff of Shatner-reading-Lucy-in-Sky-with-Diamonds over-interpretation. But that passes in an instant, and I find myself discovering new wonders in nearly every spoken line of a poem I’ve read probably a hundred times. I have a tendency to dismiss rhymed poetry as lightweight, as my brain usually prefers humming the tune to learning the meaning behind the words, but Mills’ reading is a perfect foil for that. He treads a careful path between chanting the regular meter and disregarding it entirely, cleverly emphasizing the story the words tell while still respecting their poetry. What he presents is a tale of a man just tumbling off the edge of hope into a free fall of depression, a man who speaks the name of his lost love into the darkness outside his soul only to have the darkness reply with morbid hopelessness.
The one thing marring this production is the background track. Behind the serious lead vocals vamps a cartoon ghoul-band of horror excess: Howling wind, howling wolves, crackling thunder, soaring choirs, and crashing orchestras. It isn’t destructive, but it is ridiculous. That said, this is still an excellent recording. I highly recommend following Mr. Mills down this twilit path, no matter how many times you think you’ve seen it before.
Posted by Kurt Dietz
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