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Friday, February 28, 2014

Big Black: Pigpile

BIG BLACK: PIGPILE (1992)

1) Fists Of Love; 2) L Dopa; 3) Passing Complexion; 4) Dead Billy; 5) Cables; 6) Bad Penny; 7) Pavement Saw; 8) Kerosene; 9) Steelworker; 10) Pigeon Kill; 11) Fish Fry; 12) Jordan, Minnesota.

This is such a quintessential live Big Black recording that it is quite weird how it took them five years to release it — the actual gig was played on July 24, 1987, in London, during the band's farewell tour of Europe, and it was one of those farewell tours where the «farewell mindset» ac­tually adds to the general energy and excitement level rather than takes away from it. In addition to that, the setlist is constructed as a representative retrospective, covering all of Big Black's out­put with the exception of the Racer-X EP, and with the aid of superior sound quality, acts as a terrific and deserving conclusion to the band's career.

You do get the usual bad-taste jokes ("this is a song Jerry Lee Lewis wrote before he killed one of his wives"), and you also get Albini's trademark "one, two, FUCK YOU!" live intros (that were unexpectedly absent on Sound Of Impact), but none of these really matter next to, say, the com­plete recasting of ʽDead Billyʼ from its rather humble beginnings into a veritable wall of melodic white noise, or to ʽFists Of Loveʼ dropping its slightly «Gothic» production in favor of razor-blade sharp guitar playing and simulation of totally maniacal violence. As on Sound Of Impact, these live versions by no means outshine the originals or make them obsolete — they simply blast them away with heavy artillery, for better or worse.

The major kicker is astutely saved for last: a nearly seven-minute version of ʽJordan, Minnesotaʼ in which the unspeakable activities of the protagonists are «simulated» by the guitar in a feedback assault that yields some of the cruelest aural effects I've ever had the mispleasure of hearing. No, fortunately, this is not the audio equivalent of Salò or any such work of vomit-art, but the things Albini is doing on this track, in terms of my general barriers of tolerance, beat just about every­thing, from Throbbing Gristle to Ministry. Play it loud enough in headphones and see how much Real Man you really are — baptised through fire and brimstone rather than holy waters.

It is interesting that, having disbanded Big Black, Albini put the name to rest, even though the «band», from the very start, was his one-man project and he could have easily preserved the mo­niker for his future projects like Rapeman and Shellac. But all of these later incarnations are, in fact, substantially different from the «Big Black sound» that Steve had all but abandoned — the «drum machine vs. clang guitar» thing was buried for good, almost as if the man had realized that he'd taken the formula as far as it could go, and that it was high time for an image change. Much like Nick Cave on the other side of the planet, Albini would «soften» his approach (although he'd never «stoop» to soulfulness and sentimentality), but this was probably inevitable if he wanted to try and progress further — otherwise, subsequent Big Black-style albums would most likely soon degenerate into complete self-parody. As it is, the Pigpile memento provides a perfect final touch, well worth a thumbs up, both to the career of Big Black and the whole «noisy post-punk» thing, soon to be absorbed into the much more commercially successful, but nowhere near as provoca­tive, grunge and alt-rock scene.

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