THE BLOOD BROTHERS: CRIMES (2004)
1) Feed Me To The Forest; 2) Trash Flavored Trash; 3) Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck; 4) Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers; 5) Teen Heat; 6) Rats And Rats And Rats For Candy; 7) Crimes; 8) My First Kiss At The Public Execution; 9) Live At The Apocalypse Cabaret; 10) Beautiful Horses; 11) Wolf Party; 12) Celebrator; 13) Devastator.
Would we expect one of America's angriest bands to miss out on some of America's greatest blunders? Obviously, The Blood Brothers just couldn't resist dedicating the near-entirety of their fourth album to the social, political, and military developments associated with the Bush administration —and, in the process, catching a corner of the public eye, as this was their first record to actually hit the lower ranges of the charts. Just as obviously, they would never do it the straightforward way, like a Bad Religion or something, but nobody in 2004 could miss the message behind lines like "neon black tanks grope the skyline" or "every soldier's spewing black cum from their victory hard on" (ouch, tough one).
Musically, Crimes enhances some of the «softening» tendencies of the previous album — of all Blood Brothers records so far, it is easily the most «accessible», provided you can stomach the traditional ugliness of the vocals (for the record, I still cannot). Many of the songs drop the fast tempos and super-speedy flash-changes of riffs, leads, and time signatures — for instance, ʽLive At The Apocalypse Cabaretʼ is a dark, melodic guitar-and-piano dirge, where it is only the tendency to fall back upon the brothers' trademark insane scream-o-logy that reminds us of who we are listening to; and the title track, also recorded in an oppressive-moody fashion, even foregoes most of the screaming, as if they were really interested in conveying the lyrical message through your ears rather than the lyrics sheet.
The lead single from the album, ʽLove Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreckʼ, could almost qualify as a pop song — standard 4/4 beat, normal guitars, vocal harmonies, and an almost catchy chorus, that is, if catchiness may be conveyed through caterwauling. Unfortunately, I do not believe this compromise really works, because the resulting melody is boring as heck, a guitar/bass/angry vocal combo that's been done a million times in the era of New Wave and college rock; and the caterwauling, reaching its peak on the "love, love, love... rhymes with pity now" chorus, is so unnaturally affected and irritating that the message, if there is one, seems wasted.
The same opinion is applicable to just about every bit of the album that tries to shy away from the old formula — for instance, the quasi-sea-shanty introduction to ʽDevastatorʼ. I do not understand how, if they really wanted to strike a chord here, anybody could be potentially impressed and «devastated» by the lyrical imagery of "neon black tanks" and all that, when both singers sing as if their nuts were being tightly held in a vise... okay, so that just might be the point, but even so, it all sounds artificial and exaggerated.
So, to be frank, if there is anything to be preferred here, I much prefer the band at their old game, fast'n'furious, such as the second part of ʽDevastatorʼ ("everybody needs a little devastation!"), or the frantic apocalyptic gallop of ʽBeautiful Horsesʼ (comparing the state of humanity to a particularly mad race where, no matter how fast you ride, you still "collapse and come in fucking last"), or, if I am very hard pressed to select an «experimental» track, the quasi-industrial grind of ʽFeed Me To The Forestʼ, beginning and ending in a nightmarish swirl of roaring cogs, springs, engines, and furnaces. In other words, whenever they try «subtlety», I wish they didn't; whenever they do not, they are predictable, but come across as more adequate.
Still, even though the fast'n'furious on Crimes quantitatively overrides the subtly-ugly, a thumbs up judgement is out of the question. The main problem with the Blood Brothers was not their lack of accessibility or purpose — so now that Crimes has adapted their «mental ward on tour» image to sociopolitical reality, this is hardly a reason for frantic applause and reconsideration. The main problem is that the image was never sufficiently strengthened either with a firm melodic base or with recognizable musical innovation. All they had going for them was technicality, lyrical skills, and an ability to produce ugly on-key/off-key screaming for extended amounts of time. To this, Crimes adds «accessible relevance» — but forgive this here reviewer for being old-fashioned, as he would rather have Neil Young's Living With War for «accessible relevance». Other than that, it's all been done before, and done better.
Put it this way: some reviewer dude on Amazon wrote that ʽLive At The Apocalypse Cabaretʼ «almost sounds like a cat being strangled singing a Rosetta Tharpe cover)». If this description fits into your definition of «awesome», Crimes is totally your cup of tea. However, personally, I have no idea why a cat being strangled would ever dream of singing a Rosetta Tharpe cover, and even less of an idea of why I would have any interest in hearing a strangled cat singing a Rosetta Tharpe cover — certainly not when I could be simply listening to a Rosetta Tharpe original instead. And last, but not least, I have totally-absolutely-whatsoever no idea why, in order to fully comprehend, abhor, and revile the absurdity, amorality, and apocalypticity of our present world situation, I would have to witness a strangled cat sing a Rosetta Tharpe cover. Then again, on some level of universal existence these are merely signs of extreme close-mindedness, I guess.
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