ARCHERS OF LOAF: THE SPEED OF CATTLE (1996)
1) Wrong; 2) South Carolina; 3) Web In Front; 4) Bathroom; 5) Tatyana; 6) What Did You Expect?; 7) Ethel Merman; 8) Funnelhead; 9) Quinn Beast; 10) Telepathic Traffic; 11) Don't Believe The Good News; 12) Smokin' Pot In The Hot City; 13) Mutes In The Steeple; 14) Revenge; 15) Bacteria; 16) Freezing Point; 17) Powerwalker; 18) Backwash.
I would never say that Archers Of Loaf are the great lost gem of the mid-Nineties, much more deserving of the attention of every self-respecting Homo sapiens than the publicity-puffed Nirvana. Nevertheless, they certainly deserve to at least be placed in the «lost and found» locker, and their career has been consistent enough to make me want to try out, as a postscriptum of sorts, this early collection of odds and ends, originally released in between the success of Vee Vee and the relative creative stagnation of Airports.
For all the good fans, this is an essential purchase, since there are no overlaps with the band's regular studio albums. Instead, Speed Of Cattle collects a bunch of early singles (including single versions of ʽWrongʼ and ʽWeb In Frontʼ, different from LP versions), two tracks from the rare EP Vs. The Greatest Of All Time, and some studio outtakes that cannot be found anywhere else. The question is — does anybody other than the truly devoted fan need it?
Frankly, I don't think so. One thing is certain: Speed Of Cattle will not open your eyes on any aspect of the Archers that you do not already know about. All of the songs are in the band's usual style, but very few of them accentuate the famous «guitar weaving» style. For instance, ʽSouth Carolinaʼ is occasionally considered somewhat of a lost semi-classic, but all I hear is generic, bombastic alt-rock, thoroughly boring for three out of three and a half minutes (a «woman tone» guitar enters the stage towards the end and makes things a little more colorful, but I am just mentioning this for honesty's sake).
Special cases include ʽBathroomʼ, one of the band's fastest tunes, probably the closest they ever came to «hardcore», but with a nifty psychedelic guitar break; ʽQuinn Beastʼ, where the second guitar somehow falls under a Duane Eddy influence, playing surf-like chords against the usual sea of distortion; and the instrumental ʽSmokin' Pot In The Hot Cityʼ, which begins with a cozy little country-rock riff and then goes on being relatively gentle and melodic throughout.
Everything else sticks together in the same sort of mush as All The Nation's Airports: sometimes a bit slower, sometimes a bit faster, sometimes yelly-screamy, sometimes quiet-melancholic-like. Listening to this record, in fact, gives away the Archers Of Loaf's fatal mistake — they should never have stuck to this image of «hard rocking» people, because they are too pensive for that. I can tolerate sixty minutes of leaden, by-the-book distorted «rock» chords from the Ramones (even late-period Ramones), because it is their lifeblood. But nobody will convince me that these chords are the lifeblood of Eric Bachmann and Eric Johnson, because they could never rock as hard as Nirvana or Alice In Chains — and when you cannot rock out as hard as your competition, it is better not to rock out at all. Otherwise, you'll just be moving along at the «speed of cattle», and why should anyone want that? Thumbs down.