ARCHERS OF LOAF: WHITE TRASH HEROES (1998)
1) Fashion Bleeds; 2) Dead Red Eyes; 3) I.N.S.; 4) Perfect Time; 5) Slick Tricks And Bright Lights; 6) One Slight Wrong Move; 7) Banging On A Dead Drum; 8) Smokers In Love; 9) After The Last Laugh; 10) White Trash Heroes.
Reportedly, the Archers Of Loaf found themselves artistically blocked after touring in support of Airports, and I easily believe that — I mean, who wouldn't, after having to play songs from the dullest record of one's career over and over again? Eventually, it was decided that, if the band were to go on, it would have to change. The heavy fate of the Artist who did not, from the outset, list «stability of sound» as one of the major goals in his career: either you change, or you lose the right to that capital A, not to mention an A+ in Robert Christgau’s next blurb.
The exact change from Airports to White Trash Heroes is not easy to describe, though. Everyone acknowledges it, and the band actually lost some of the fan support because of it, but nobody can really summarize it in one or two sentences. It's not as if they brought in a host of guest musicians or a symphonic orchestra, started writing twenty-minute long suites, or covering Frank Sinatra on authentic XVIIth century instruments. Individually, many of the songs are not that different from the classic Archers sound. But altogether, White Trash Heroes definitely constitutes one of their finest offerings, and I'd probably rate it second in my personal ranking for today.
What do you do when you understand your own mediocrity as a God-sent troubadour, yet cannot resist the temptation of making, in the simple hope that you’ll maybe get lucky next time? Easy — you turn upon yourself in all your wretched mediocrity, and intensify the only thing you're sure of. (I realize I have by now offended every devoted Archers fan on the planet, but, as a fairly mediocre writer myself, I somehow feel a bond between myself and the band, to be honored by admitting it). Who are the «White Trash Heroes»? Take a wild guess.
The seven-minute long title track is structured as a long, repetitive, part-time Bob Dylan, part-time Lou Reed visionary epic, pinned to the simplest of hooks for heavier effect. It drags on slowly and drearily, on the wings of a simple synth line and a sea of anthemic feedback, until the voice finally fades out and all that is left is the murky electric guitar pushing the theme forward for an extra two minutes. It is the most perfect conclusion to the Archers' career that could ever be desired: a song that declares the ugliness of it all through a long series of half-baked, humorless poetic metaphors, being ugly as hell, but somewhat mesmerizing, in itself.
Even before you get to it, though, you have to endure a sea of industrial bleakness. ʽFashion Bleedsʼ would be just another grungy slab of grunge, if not for the annoying, ear-piercing electronic bleep sub-melody that eventually generates itself out of the muck, claiming your attention so that it can tamper with your digestion system. On ʽDead Red Eyesʼ, all singing is done in a whiny, high-pitched manner, reminiscent of Neil Young and his endless complaints about life's miseries. On ʽPerfect Timeʼ, the lead guitar line is set to «dirge mode» almost continuously — now we can finally understand the fans, who were waiting for some punch-the-wall attitude and got some lie-down-and-die attitude instead. ʽOne Slight Wrong Moveʼ justifies the «industrial» tag explicitly: it starts off with factory-style banging and clanging, and culminates in the electronically encoded refrain ("a hundred million could be wrong") that, again, could serve as an irritant in the eyes of all the admirers of Archers as a «live» band, but is actually well in line with the overall moods and temperatures on the record.
In the middle of it all, it is easy to lose trace of ʽSmokers In Loveʼ, a brief instrumental track that should actually be counted among their finest creations — a bit of melodic «art-grunge» which shows excellent teamwork and expression. Your best chance of remembering it is probably through the fat distorted opening riff, but the guitar- and even basswork on the main section are noticeable as well. By now, the Archers can not only «weave» their trademark double/triple-guitar patterns, they can do this with a stern, robotic air (must have been listening to lots of Krautrock), making the same kind of progress here that one usually sees in the evolution from «punk» to «post-punk». It's not entirely new, but with these guys, it works.
Overall, White Trash Heroes could really signify a transition to something more... purposeful, I guess, than the early Archers albums. It is that close to turning Bachmann into one of those «generation spokesmen» — with all the debt that the title track owes to previous generation spokesmen, it belongs in the 1990s, a decade that did not really have its own Bob Dylan or Neil Young or Lou Reed, except for the original old ones. But maybe it was exactly this «looking back» thing that did not work out, I don't know. In any case, even if White Trash Heroes was an artistic dead end — and the band did not survive it — it still remains a curious and touching artistic dead end to revisit, and the title track is as good a «self-destructive goodbye note» as any. Thumbs up.
Check "White Trash Heroes" (CD) on Amazon