Album Review: Cindy Lee’s “Diamond Jubilee” — A Hidden Jewel

By Matt Hanson

Cindy Lee’s Diamond Jubilee is nothing if not immersed in its own inner world. That’s part of its complexity, its strength, and its beauty.

It’s not every day that you get an opportunity to say thank God for Twitter (I’m never calling it anything else). It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the whole kaboosh disappeared tomorrow. I certainly have (half-consciously) wasted far too much time on it. But sometimes you can stumble on a hidden jewel. It’s all about who you follow. I’m grateful to a couple of music-oriented accounts I have tagged for hipping me to a new record which would have undoubtedly been more obscure than it already is without that buzz.

That record would be Cindy Lee’s Diamond Jubilee, which is for some reason only available on YouTube and for purchase on an ancient GeoCities account. Maybe flying that low beneath the usual publicity radar is just a very strategic way to entice people. Or maybe it’s because there isn’t much of a promotional budget. Who knows?

Details on the musicians and the record seem fairly sketchy. A quick Googling revealed that the titular band is apparently the drag persona of a Canadian musician named Patrick Flegel, who wrote the songs and played almost all the instruments. Donning a completely different persona to write and record is always interesting. It might free up some inhibitions or offer a fresh creative challenge. As Oscar Wilde said, give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth.

For all its obscurity, Diamond Jubilee is consistent enough to make one wonder what the thinking was behind its conception, but maybe its true allure lies in resisting such probing inquiries. Don’t touch the bubble or it will pop, but make sure you pay attention or it’ll drift away. The website I looked at to check the lyrics couldn’t figure a few of them out. It’s not a record that reaches out; it comfortably stays in its own somnolent groove. Which of course only makes you listen more closely, to better feel its hermetic heartbeat.

Diamond Jubilee is a richly hazy mixture of styles and moods. As some commentators have pointed out, it feels like it’s been uncovered from some forgotten tapes made long ago, even though it’s quite new. There’s certainly a very strong girl group influence. The relatively simple lyrics about longing and disappointment are sung in haunting, simple harmonies that sashay between the romantic and the mournful. Drenched in a deep, aquatic sounding echo, Diamond Jubilee is imbued with that deep reverberating ambience that you sometimes find in ’60s records, where it sounds like it’s coming from the bottom of a mysterious well.

Impressively, there are two hours’ worth of over 30 relatively short songs, and the dreamlike mood is never broken. “Olive Drab” is one of the several instrumentals (another unique touch) that settles into a druggy groove that might not be out of place in the ’70s, followed by the lament of “Wild One” which resonates with the Beach Boys’ darker moments. At times there’s a little bit of the Velvet Underground’s crackling guitar and lo-fi version of doo-wop. Plenty of sonic subtlety hides within the layers of these tracks. Headphones are ideal.

Strings and synths appear and disappear as the songs abruptly stop, only to let a new one emerge. Even when the rhythm picks up and starts to sound like something resembling a low-key pop song, the vocals don’t change their ethereal vibe. “Le Machinist Fantome” sounds like something out of a B-grade gothic horror movie (not in a bad way!); it segues gently into “Kingdome Come,” which could be the soundtrack for a ’60s cocktail party tossed on Mars. “Demon Bitch” talks ruefully about youthful indiscretion with an acoustic-based earnestness that verges on the innocent. “Dracula” is probably the most overtly funky of all the songs, and it’s not all that happy about being robust: “I’m living like Dracula/ My heart is made of stone/ And I’m all alone.”

Whatever lyrics you can make out consistently return to themes of longing, especially of the unrequited sort. A romantic loneliness. You can get the sense of a person who is mourning a great loss, or perhaps fantasizing about something they couldn’t bear to lose, a longing that keeps them dreaming. The forlorn Dusty Springfield of Dusty in Memphis would have slipped right into these songs. “Don’t tell me I’m wrong/ Without you close to me/ All I’ve got’s this song/ And this melody/ Darling, if I’m wrong.”

“Stone Faces” turns away from a superficial world of image and celebrity and finds its own way out: “I looked around and what did I see?/ Stone faces staring back at me/ They saw me on the cover of a magazine/ And now these people want a piece of me/ I turn my back to the cemetery.” As a Supremes-esque bass line kicks in, the groove confidently picks up as it fades out. You can’t hurry love, after all.

Diamond Jubilee is nothing if not immersed in its own inner world. That’s part of its complexity, its strength, and its beauty. It’s going to swoon when it wants to swoon, even if there’s nothing much to swoon over. Hard to describe a record that seduces the listener so abstractly with its delicate enigmas. It’s like songs played for a slow dance at a secret prom held under the sea, with a disco ball spinning over a mostly empty room.

Matt Hanson is a contributing editor at the Arts Fuse whose work has also appeared in the American Interest, the Baffler, the Guardian, the Millions, the New Yorker, the Smart Set, and elsewhere. A longtime resident of Boston, he now lives in New Orleans.


  1. CSH on April 17, 2024 at 2:12 pm

    Brilliant review, Matt.
    I immediately thought of You Can’t Hurry Love when I heard Stone Faces.
    Don’t Tell Me I’m Wrong made me weep.
    I want Le Machiniste Fantome played at my funeral.
    I’ve only had the album for 24 hours and it’s changed me, as hyperbolic as that sounds. I forgot music could be like this.

  2. Steve Erickson on April 17, 2024 at 9:07 pm

    This is a really excellent, strangely mysterious album. The murky haze helps it avoid sounding like a ripoff of girl groups and ’60s rock. It’s gotten a lot of press for such a sub rosa release, so I hope Lee gets those $30 donations and at least breaks even.

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