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Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Blood Brothers: Burn, Piano Island, Burn!

THE BLOOD BROTHERS: BURN, PIANO ISLAND, BURN! (2003)

1) Guitarmy; 2) Fucking's Greatest Hits; 3) Burn, Piano Island, Burn; 4) Every Breath Is A Bomb; 5) Ambulance Vs. Ambulance; 6) USA Nails; 7) Cecilia And The Silhouette Saloon; 8) Six Nightmares At The Pinball Masquerade; 9) The Salesman, Denver Max; 10) I Know Where The Canaries And The Crows Go; 11) God Bless You, Blood Thir­sty Zeppelins; 12) The Shame.

Moving into the big leagues — this album was produced by no less than Ross Robertson, the «Godfather of Nu-Metal» (a title earned with his production of the first Korn album) as well as a towering figure in «post-hardcore» (At The Drive-In, Glassjaw, etc.); and it takes itself far more seriously than the previous two records, being nearly twice as long and featuring an even weirder and more obfuscated concept than March On. For all that, as well as for being the band's first major label album, Burn, Piano Island, Burn! has earned the average critical consensus of being their masterpiece — although, it must be said, for most critics this was their first exposure to the ritual aural torture that is The Blood Brothers, and few of them had the painful responsibility to understand and describe what it is, exactly, that distinguishes Burn from its predecessors, let alone makes it so much better.

To be sure, there are some tiny differences. For instance, ʽThe Salesmanʼ is, I believe, the first song in the band's catalog to begin with an acoustic guitar part — not a particularly good one, sounding a bit like some second-rate country-pop composer trying to figure out a new melody, but certainly shocking enough for a Blood Brothers record (don't worry, though, it all reverts back to normal in about a minute's time). ʽCecilia And The Silhouette Saloonʼ starts out with a gloomy-grinning two-note bass riff that brings to mind Deep Purple's ʽDemon's Eyeʼ, then, ten seconds later, dissolves the subtlety of the intro in the usual sea of screamo noise. And ʽThe Shameʼ, closing out the album, is this band's idea of an anthemic ballad — for once, they are willing to dispense with pure anger, rage, and saliva in favor of a more desperate, maybe even «crying» kind of sound, expressing their negative views of modern civilization in «punk prayer» rather than «punk bonfire» mode. So far, so good.

Beyond that, however, nothing much has changed, except that the «songs» have grown longer and there are now more of them — playing these 47 minutes of sound at full volume is going to be a psychic challenge even for experienced listeners, mainly because, with each new release, The Blood Brothers manage to inject ever more and more venom into their voices. It's bad enough to just have people screaming at you for forty minutes, but when they do this in the ugli­est, nastiest, shrillest ways possible, well... then again, supposedly the whole point is that this is the kind of record you usually play not so much to enjoy it yourself but as to spook away your boring neighbors. Blast this out your window at top volume and prepare to get evicted (if your neighbors are brave enough to call the police) or to acquire the status of the local Phantom of the Opera (if they are not).

If you do wish to spend a bit of extra time with the album, the lyrics sheet may be worth consul­ting. Most of the lines come across as «pissed nonsense», but whoever wishes to see it all as one big rambling condemnation of the silly excesses of industrial / commercial society will have plenty of evidence in favor of that interpretation. Plenty of references to doctors and ambulances, too, because the Brothers are still playing their «restricted area mental ward» game. Typical quote: "Unfortunately this Marilyn Monroe is a secret Zeppelin / Set on a crash course with your cum­shot museum / With the blowjob bunny mansion". From a certain angle, this might even be con­sidered as worthy poetry. From another angle, though, these «shocking» lines have no true shock­ing potential in the year 2003.

That said, the Brothers are capable of thought-provoking lyrical twists — they not only borrow from early Dylan, they may even repay him back: "How many chords till this song vomits out real love? / How many feathers to pluck naked the soiled dove? / How many whores till you send away for that trophy? / How many punches till you give yourself away for free?" Not a bad way to innovatively celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Freewheelin', and it's not even that the two albums' primary messages were all that incompatible (and, for that matter, back in 1963 quite a few people felt much the same way about Dylan's voice as one could feel about the Brothers now — «truth hurts!»).

The problem is that, even when taken all together, the advantages of Burn, Piano Island, Burn — such as lyrical cleverness, instrumental prowess, and, above all, glorification of all things Extreme-and-Radical — do not suffice to overcome the simple question of «So what?..» which I ask myself when writing each single review. I mean, say what you want, there is no possible way in human history (not at present, at least) to get more Extreme-and-Radical than G. G. Allin or Anal Cunt. The Blood Brothers know this, and accordingly shift the agenda: they want to get all Extreme-and-Radical on our asses while at the same time retaining an intellectual approach with both the music and the lyrics. But then they punch themselves into a corner, because, when you get to the bottom of it, «intellectualism» and «radicalism» are poor cousins — it's a bit like trying to become the chess champion of the world while bungee jumping naked, because playing chess at the chess table is boring and stereotypical, whereas bungee jumping per se is stupid. Combine these two activities — and you pretty much get the real world equivalent of Burn, Piano Island, Burn, an album to which I could probably give a thumbs up if I had no knowledge whatsoever of pre-2000 music; but, the way things actually are, I can at most give it an encouraging (or «con­descending», if you'd like to call it that) pat on the back.

Check "Burn, Piano Island, Burn!" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Burn, Piano Island, Burn!" (MP3) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. "glorification of all things Extreme-and-Radical"
    The problem with making extremity and radicalism your standard is that the results are not extreme and radical anymore. That's why you need to put the extreme-and-radical things in a pretty normal context. That's the only way to combine intellectualism and radicalism. An example how that works is chessboxing:

    http://www.harringayonline.com/forum/topics/chess-boxing-next-weekend-in-king-s-cross

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  2. One minor correction, the famed nu-metal producer is actually Ross Robinson, not Robertson, but a minor nitpick. I do think this stands as my favorite record of theirs, but, as you hint at, it was also my introduction and nothing else I've heard has come close. It was one of those visceral records that hit me at the right time and shook me out of an indie-pop and emo funk.

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