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Friday, February 14, 2014

Big Black: Songs About Fucking

BIG BLACK: SONGS ABOUT FUCKING (1987)

1) The Power Of Independent Trucking; 2) The Model; 3) Bad Penny; 4) L Dopa; 5) Precious Thing; 6) Colombian Necktie; 7) Kitty Empire; 8) Ergot; 9) Kasimir S. Pulaski Day; 10) Fish Fry; 11) Pavement Saw; 12) Tiny, King Of The Jews; 13) Bombastic Intro; 14) He's A Whore.

And by «fucking», Steve Albini, of course, conveys all the possible meanings of the word, literal as well as figurative. The album title may sound a little exploitative these days, but it fits the music, the lyrical subjects, the atmosphere fairly well — at the very least, it's a much more appro­priate title than Songs About Making Love or Songs About Sleeping Together, which wouldn't be a Big Black-ish title at all.

Ideologically, the record never departs far enough from the internal logic of Atomizer, the basic formula remaining the same — jarring, aurally disturbing guitar tones, deranged vocals, and sto­ries of various types of sick fucks (particularly truckers — Albini seems to have a special bone against the honest trucker, as if he'd spent all his childhood being molested on the highway). But since these stories come in all sorts of different varieties, this keeps the moods and melodies fresh and diverse enough to make up for another thirty minutes of stimulating musique-noire entertain­ment. Even though this time around, there is no central masterpiece like ʽKeroseneʼ to act as a reliable anchor, and all the dirty vignettes just roam around in a slightly disconcerting manner.

At least one of the creative decisions is quite bizarre, but fascinating: I have no idea how the band came around to covering Kraftwerk's ʽThe Modelʼ, a song that originally made perfect sense as a part of The Man Machine, with its electronic equation of a glamor model with a human robot — here, electronic futurism is replaced with BDSM guitars, so that the story of the submissive model ends up on the same plane of being as the story of the fornicating tru­cker and the story of the Colombian necktie. Additionally, we get good proof that Albini's «clang guitar» can be used fairly well to play pop-style lead melodies, even if the whole thing is more of an ironic experi­ment than a serious attempt to branch out.

Slightly more serious are some experiments on the second side of the album, which Albini would later describe as relative failures, at least in relation to the more spontaneous, free-flowing, punky songs on the first side. In particular, ʽKitty Empireʼ stomps along like some sort of arrogant «pro­gressive hardcore» epic, taking the life experience of «King Cat» as a likely allegory for some­thing less cuddly and cutesy and pinning it to a slow-moving, grinding industrial nightmare that gradually builds up in intensity, then cuts out abruptly just as you were beginning to hope for an apocalyptic climax. But as «epic» as it tries to be, the song is just too monotonous to overwhelm the senses — and no matter what they say about him, «King Cat» just does not sound like a scary enough personage to perfectly match the brutal repetitive riff pattern of the song. Maybe ʽGoblin Empireʼ might have been a better fit, but that'd be too much fantasy for these guys.

Much more effective, I think, is ʽFish Fryʼ, also on the second side, which contains the album's most daring piece of art news — a story of a murderer hosing his truck after chucking the dead body out in a nearby pond — and sets it to one of the album's most head-wrecking melodies, where Albini's mutilation of his high strings is like a manipulation of sharp psychedelic needles twitching in your brain; even by Big Black's usual standards, the song is an impressive bit of psychological-physiological torture. Lyrically less explicit, but musically even crazier, though, is ʽErgotʼ, where Albini is trying to provide the musical equivalent of a particularly violent on­slaught of St. Anthony's Fire — you'd have to consult an actual sufferer to understand how close he got to achieving the right effect, but if you listen to this stuff loud enough in headphones, twitching and occasional spasms are near-guaranteed.

That said, it is terribly hard to dedicate space, time, and opinions to individual songs on here, even if most of them do have their own individuality — like the seven deadly sins, or the indivi­dual members of the Manson Family. So let me just conclude by saying that, on the whole, the album is a little deeper, a little more ambitious, a little more image-risking than its predecessor, but possibly not quite as directly hard-hitting, either. And that's good — considering that Big Black only managed to release two original studio albums, this gives a good opportunity for the fans to live their lives fighting over which one is closer to «the true Big Black». Personally, I can­not decide, so I just give the whole album another thumbs up, despite the fact that I'd certainly refuse to answer the question «do you really like Songs About Fucking?» in a straightforward manner — it's a trick sort of question.

Check "Songs About Fucking" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Songs About Fucking" (MP3) on Amazon

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