The cover of Pronto Monto tells you everything you need to know about the two sides of Kate and Anna McGarrigle. On the front, they are sweet, doe-eyed angels; on the back,
they're wearing huge, spiky gold tiaras and making grotesque piggy faces. The McGarrigles' habit of jumping from extreme romanticism to extreme whimsicality bespeaks their delightfully ironic, even cynical attitude toward that middle ground – um, reality. "Just Another Broken Heart" (written by the album's producer, David Nichtern) euphemizes a one-night stand by lamenting, "Two lovers meet the night before they part"; then a song about "chemical bondage" called "NaCl" goes, "Sodium cried, 'What a gas, be my bride/And I'll change your name from chlorine to chloride!" Deliberately dabbling in disparate illusions of romance and comedy is the McGarrigles' way of proving they have no illusions about anything.
Preferring surplus sentimentality and comic exaggeration to the Real Thing - this approach sounds almost campy, a word I've never thought of applying to the McGarrigles before. It implies a certain frivolousness where they are completely earnest (though never solemn). However,
Pronto Monto's disappointing slightness makes it clear to even a rabid fan like me why the McGarrigies' following hasn't grown beyond a cult. Their perilously frail songs, their wobbly, imperfect voices, and their loose, sometimes cumbersome accompaniment make them a specialized taste, though in the best way possible; they appeal to people who are instantly engaged by a story that begins, "Just a little atom of
chlorine, valence minus one..."
It's not that the McGarrigles are never down-to-earth. Anna's "You're a dead weight and I can't wait to see the back of you" is about as direct as you can get. Indeed, their “minor" status derives not from being too obscure but from being, occasionally, too
plain. Having come to expect ironic whimsy, you're let down when it's absent. On
Pronto Monto, for instance, Kate's "Come Back Baby" and Anna's "Oh My Heart" are both simple, repetitive love songs. But while the former just seems trite, the latter's corny literary allusions carry a refreshing hint of self-mockery. "You're my beau, my Fidelio," triils Anna, deadpan, "I'm your Kathy on the heather!"
While there's nothing as affecting as "Kitty Come Home" or as exhilarating as "Kiss and Say Goodbye,"
Pronto Monto does have its joys. Kate's "NaCl" is hilarious, and Anna's ode to motherhood, "Bundle of Sorrow, Bundle of Joy," conveys the heightened awareness of everything (weather, noises, furniture) a new baby arouses. And as always, the McGarrigles make the most of their special
sibling- harmonies; the vocal arrangements are rich and often witty. My favorite is the jaunty title track (sung in French), where perfectly timed back-up sighs turn a single phrase - "un souvenir un mo-
ment ah-ahh" - into a dreamy climax and resolution. By the way, the title "Pronto Monto" is an absurd pun on the song's first three words, "Prends ton manteau," meaning "Grab your coat" – yet another example of the McGarrigles' endearing eccentricity.
Boston Phoenix, November 1978