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Friday, February 7, 2014

Big Black: Atomizer

BIG BLACK: ATOMIZER (1986)

1) Jordan, Minnesota; 2) Passing Complexion; 3) Big Money; 4) Kerosene; 5) Bad Houses; 6) Fists Of Love; 7) Stinking Drunk; 8) Bazooka Joe; 9) Strange Things; 10) Cables (live).

When you follow Bulldozer up with Atomizer, chances are you are not really in the mood for significantly changing your formula. Indeed, the basic ingredients all remain the same: Albini's «clanging» guitar tone as the main attraction, pummeling industrialized beats and tempos as the main framework, and lyrics about perverts and perversions as the main subject of reference. Also, the entire LP runs just over half an hour, which probably is the longest possible time one could listen to this sonic nightmare without getting well-adjusted, numbed down, and bored. In fact, were it up to me, I'd probably cut it down by another five or ten minutes, because the EP format works best with the likes of Big Black.

With the formula set so tightly in place, the overall quality of the album depends on how many different and emotionally evocative riffs / grooves / arrangements the band can offer, and, fortu­nately, Albini's creative juices are peaking — almost every one of these nine songs delivers, one way or another. The central piece, bravely extended to a six-minute running time, is ʽKeroseneʼ; from a classificatory angle, it would probably count as «hardcore industrialized funk», with rela­tively complex (for Big Black) interplay between the bass and guitars and several crescendos that perfectly match the song's lyrical message ("never anything to do in this town... there's kerosene around, something to do... set me on fire, kerosene!"). Few songs have managed to tackle the «violence born out of boredom» topic so efficiently, as Steve's guitar goes from high-pitched, monotonous, whiny funk chords («boredom») to shrill, crackling, ascending lines — musical flames engulfing the listener. Fabulously cool and inventive.

The shorter songs are predictably less ambitious — just state their simple, repetitive points for a brief interval of time to give way to the next sketch in the «Panoramas of Perversion» series. ʽJor­dan, Minnesotaʼ takes on the issue of a 1983 scandal of child abuse in said little town, and I'd bet anything Albini was particularly happy that the little town was named after the holy river, throw­ing the issue of hypocrisy into the mix. The song's main riff has nothing particularly original about it, but sounds double-threatening when played Albini-style, and by the time the song has burst into complete hysteria, with insane screams of «suck daddy, suck daddy, suck daddy!» almost drowning out the guitar background, you may well be itching for a nice hot shower. Ex­ploitative to the core, yes, but effective.

Other, ahem, «highlights» for me would have to be ʽFists Of Loveʼ — the subject matter is easy enough to guess, and all the melodic lines have been specially selected and received the Steve Albini Stamp of Approval for Matching Physical Pain; and ʽBazooka Joeʼ, which is about as complex as your average Ramones song, but still generates a certain trance-inducing effect — Steve's «pleading-aggressive» repetitive mantra of "you don't have to be alone Joe... hang with me Joe...", recited over the song's dark rhythm pattern, may act funny on the brain.

The rest of the songs are difficult to describe in any other terms than the ones already used, but what really saves Atomizer from becoming «filler city», even with this short overall length, is that each song works as its own separate anecdote — you are walking here through a picture ex­hibition, glaring at child molesters, bored kids in provincial shitholes, sexual deviants, whore­house clients, corrupt policemen, alcoholics, and racial issues. It doesn't always sound different from each other, but it's one hell of a panorama, and I'd say it elevates the level of social con­sciousness far more efficiently than, say, any given sermon-riddled LP by Bad Religion. Defini­tely not just «gross for grossness' sake», Atomizer never really overcooks its slum-taste pasta, so here is another thumbs up in return.

Check "Atomizer" (MP3) on Amazon

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