ARCHERS OF LOAF: SECONDS BEFORE THE ACCIDENT (2000)
1) Dead Red Eyes; 2) Fabricoh; 3) Vocal Shrapnel; 4) Web In Front; 5) Let The Loser Melt; 6) Strangled By The Stereo Wire; 7) Fashion Bleeds; 8) You And Me; 9) Might; 10) Revenge; 11) South Carolina; 12) Lowest Part Is Free; 13) Plumbline; 14) Wrong; 15) White Trash Heroes; 16) Chumming The Oceans.
A last-minute souvenir from the Archers' final tour, this was all recorded in November 1998 at some small joint in Chapel Hill. This was not the band's first live recording: an EP called Vitus Tinnitus had already appeared in 1997, but it was rather short and went out of print fairly quickly. This one, on the other hand, is much longer, and, rather democratically, includes comparable shares of selections from all of the band's four studio albums (as well as two tracks from a rare studio EP released in 1994) — a decent, deserving live retrospective that should be in every serious fan collection.
There are, however, serious problems as well, that go way beyond track selection (which I personally could live with, even if I like the Archers' evens far more than their odds). First, the studio arrangements on the original albums were often interesting in terms of overdubs, with three- or four-part guitar melodies contributing to the sound; obviously, when playing live, these complex textures are reduced to barer basics, and, since sometimes these overdubs were almost like the main selling point of the song, the effect is predictable. Second, even those instruments that are played on stage are recorded atrociously. Play any single one of them next to the studio original and see the difference at once. The «melodic» guitar that is supposed to whine, chirp, and jangle next to the grungy chord guitar bears the heaviest brunt — definitely out there, but barely audible most of the time. But even the heavy guitar is unpleasantly muffled.
With these obvious and rather glaring defects, are there any compensating benefits? Certainly not from a surplus of energy: it's been a long, long time since well-behaved rock bands restrained their passion in the studio, only unleashing the full fury onstage. Chapel Hill did not get it that much louder or more dynamic than the recording studios did. Nor are there any interesting changes (other than simplified arrangements) to any of the songs. Nor do the band members show a particularly clever or original sense of humor (such bits of banter as "we have an alien on stage" or "if I have an aneurysm tonight, it's out of gratitude" are more or less their peak). Nor does the audience help lighten up the spirits — the crowd must have consisted of long-term fans, some of whom seem to have already sung all the lyrics to ʽYou And Meʼ way before its lengthy, ear-killer bass intro gives way to the vocals, but the Archers' music is not arena-rock and has very little to do with crowd-pleasing in general.
Come to think of it, it really beats me why I am tempted to give the album a thumbs up, despite there being nothing objectively redeemable about it. Maybe it is because the most important element of White Trash Heroes managed to blow over here more or less untouched: its autumnal sadness and a certain sense of «when the music's over, turn off the light... and go back to your boring function-fulfilling in this world, whatever it may be». Even the earlier songs from Icky Mettle and Vee Vee seem to have been slightly irradiated with this quiet, unassuming depression. I almost think I might be giving this positive judgement out of sheer pity, regardless of whether anyone needs it — here's to a band that tried to make it, and then spent their last two years coming to terms with their own doom. And, maybe, the world's as well.
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