ARCHERS OF LOAF: ALL THE NATIONS AIRPORTS (1996)
1) Strangled By The Stereo Wire; 2) All The Nations Airports; 3) Scenic Pastures; 4) Worst Defense; 5) Attack Of The Killer Bees; 6) Rental Sting; 7) Assassination On X-mas Eve; 8) Chumming The Ocean; 9) Vocal Shrapnel; 10) Bones Of Her Hands; 11) Bumpo; 12) Form And File; 13) Acromegaly; 14) Distance Comes In Droves; 15) Bombs Away.
For their third release, the Archers got picked up by a major label — Elektra — but the fact produced far more fuss in the press than change in the sound. Not that there isn't any change in the sound from Vee Vee to All The Nations Airports. There is. But it has nothing to do with labels. And yes, it is a sucky sort of change.
Essentially, to me this sort of change suggests that Vee Vee, after all, was a fluke. Somehow, on that album, the band managed to align their mutual configuration in the only possible, and very subtle way, that could make them stand out. They probably did not pay too much attention to this lucky turn of events — and, when it was time to reconvene for the third album, fell back on the old configuration of Icky Mettle. Only now they lack even that initial punch of freshness which can sometimes elevate mediocrity to illusionary heights. Results? Boring. Dull as hell.
Instead of good music, Bachmann now concentrates almost exclusively on the lyrics, which get increasingly «serious» and «messagy», without telling us explicitly what it is about them that could make Bachmann an individual presence on the «rock poet» scene. "Rental sting / The customer is king / Waste your life, waste your life / Little things can cost you everything" — here is a particularly telling example of what it's all about. If it clicks with you on paper, it will click with you on your stereo. If it does not click on paper, I have a hard time imagining how All The Nations Airports could ever occupy a special place in your heart.
That the individual guitar parts are rather dull is no surprise; the surprise is that they seem to have lost the ability to turn their twin guitar interplay into something larger than the sum of its parts. It is most evident on such lumbering instrumental monsters as ʽAttack Of The Killer Beesʼ, which, by all means, should have been titled ʽAttack Of The Killer Slothsʼ instead — one of the guitars does produce a bee-like buzz all the way through (wailing like crazy on one note while your ears are slowly and painfully being electrocuted), but the others are just droning stoner grunge chords over and over again in an «atmospheric» manner that is neither pleasant, nor even novel.
They are still capable of occasionally coming across mildly interesting themes, when they get off their main saddle horse: ʽBumpoʼ is a fun instrumental, built upon a dark psycho-folk theme that is half-Jefferson Airplane, half-James Bond theme (although even ʽBumpoʼ gets less attractive and more generic once the volume levels are pushed up and the minimalistic folk guitar becomes drone-oriented). And there are tiny bits and pieces that suggest ways of greatness — for instance, the way the self-titled track begins, with its siren-like bass notes and pick scraping frenzy, before it embarrassingly turns into just another Bachmann sermon.
But tiny bits are one thing, and preaching, lying at the heart of 75% of the songs on here, is another. ʽAssassination On X-mas Eveʼ, for instance, simply continues the theme of ʽDeath In The Parkʼ — «bad shit is going on, and nobody genuinely gives a damn». There is no harm in flogging that old horse to death, particularly since the horse is immortal, but wouldn't it be nice if the accompanying music were even the least bit memorable? Or, at least, exciting? Come on now, this shit is just excruciatingly dull. I can't even hear that second «feminine» guitar all that well, bring it higher up in the mix or something (not that it looks as if it were doing anything even remotely approaching the occasional explosiveness on Vee Vee).
As ʽBombs Awayʼ, a minimalistic two-finger piano instrumental, closes the record, I cannot help but wonder how these things happen exactly — what are the factors that determine such jumps in quality between albums that are essentially based on the same styles and values. The number of cups of coffee drunk before the morning sessions? Toothaches? Undetected radioactivity exposure? Talent drain, where «talent» = an objectively measurable internal fluid? Whatever. Regardless of the answer, All The Nations Airports is a significant departure from Vee Vee, and, in my head, the vector is strictly downwards, so thumbs down accordingly.
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