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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request

THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE: THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES' SECOND REQUEST (1996)

1) All Around You (intro); 2) Cold To The Touch; 3) Donovan Said; 4) In India You; 5) No Come Down; 6) (Around You) Everywhere; 7) Jesus; 8) Before You; 9) Miss June '75; 10) Anemone; 11) Baby (Prepraise); 12) Fee­lers; 13) Bad Baby; 14) Cause, I Lover; 15) (Baby) Love Of My Life; 16) Slowdown (Fuck Tomorrow)/Here It Comes; 17) All Around You (outro).

Well, they asked for it. It always takes a concentrated effort to discuss BJM music on its own merits, without necessarily looking back on Newcombe's idols and dragging in the comparative aspect — but with an album title like this, ignoring the comparative aspect is like ignoring a pub­lic slap in the face. Clearly, this is a legacy claim. I actually know a few people whose favorite Stones album is Their Satanic Majesties' Request, just because they find the combination of the band's usual sneery/rebellious arrogance with cosmic/psychedelic ambience so decidedly one-of-a-kind, and it seems that Newcombe is one of these people — he likes his transcendental inspi­ration to come along with some snap, or vice versa. And here we are being told that it is this par­ticular vibe that he wants to cherish and develop. Well, I guess we already knew that before, but we weren't told about it so explicitly.

The problem is, I am neither at all sure that that particular vibe could be developed further, nor that Anton Newcombe, Matt Hollywood, and their temporary partners are the perfect team to try out this development. That the album, once again, is insanely long is only part of the problem — after all, if it works, it works, and if it succeeds in unlocking your cosmic conscience, it no longer matters how long it is because «time» as a concept becomes relative and all that. A much bigger part of the problem is that this particular mojo doesn't seem to work on me, and if I succeed in explaining why, it might become obvious that it also wouldn't work on many other people.

First and foremost, the record only remotely sounds like Satanic, and its differences are usually of the negative kind. It is rich in instrumentation, yes, with lots of Indian sitars and percussion, and some odd old-fashioned keyboards, but it is nowhere near as rich in melodic ideas. The majo­rity of these seventy-two minutes are almost literally spent crawling — monotonous acoustic drones, on top of which Newcombe and friends pile up all the overdubs and effects. Not even ʽSing This All Togetherʼ or ʽGomperʼ were that slow, and underneath all of its trippiness Satanic was really just a very strong pop/rock album — with great riffs (ʽCitadelʼ), stern basslines (ʽ2000 Light Years From Homeʼ), beautiful piano melodies (ʽShe's A Rainbowʼ), inventive structural shifts (ʽ2000 Manʼ), and widely varying atmospheres for different songs. In comparison — yes, in obligatory, self-triggered comparison — this «second» Request is just one dreary drone after another, where one melody usually suffices per song. If you ever wondered how in the world Newcombe could pull three albums in one year — well, I can offer a few unpleasant suggestions on where exactly he pulled them from.

If there is one proper way to enjoy this album, it must probably be handled on a very, very hot summer day somewhere out in the country, when your brain is already half turned to mush through climatic conditions, and you can do nothing whatsoever except suck on ice cubes and wander around or lie around in a near-vegetative state. (Alternately, there's artificial substances, but I'm hardly an expert on those). Under these conditions, the limp stroll of these tunes, one by one, one by one, might perfectly fit the environment, and help your struggling brain readapt to the circumstances, or just forget about them altogether. But do NOT make the mistake — like I did — of listening to this in a perfectly brisk and vigorous state, because it will drag you down merci­lessly, and not in a good, depressing sort of manner, either: it will just mush you up all over.

To understand what I am talking about, it is perfectly sufficient to listen to the first track: ʽAll Around Youʼ greets you with a slo-o-o-o-w jangle-drone, group harmonies that sound like dazed mantras, and a spoken lead vocal part where Newcombe basically just welcomes you to chill out and enjoy the experience (thus, a song that pays tribute to the opening ʽSing This All Togetherʼ and the closing ʽOn With The Showʼ at the same time, except BJM take special care to purge out any possible traces of «energy»). Gradually, there will be more guitars, keyboards, and back vocals piling up on you, but the energy level will be constantly kept at near-zero, and this is all you are going to get not just from this song — from the entire album. Nothing here, not a single song, sounds significantly different from the opener.

As it happens, despite the title, the Stones are not really the major influence on the album — I would probably have to say that Donovan is a bigger presence (ʽDonovan Saidʼ is actually a re­write of ʽThe Fat Angelʼ), his not-too-catchy summer psycho-folk vibe reflected here as precisely as anything; as for the melodies, Newcombe draws on the Beatles at least as much as he does on the Stones (the short acoustic ballad ʽLove Of My Lifeʼ borrows the chord progression from the beginning of ʽI'm Looking Through Youʼ, and also has a Kinks vibe to it, I think), but since most of these melodies are taken at such ridiculously slow tempos, they do not so much feel as «melo­dies» as they do as «mind-melting note sequences», and since they melt my mind rather than stick to it, how could I even begin describing this stuff?

I do admit there is some «songly» potential at least in those tracks where Newcombe turns to the little devil inside him, and succumbs to his blasphemous instigations — ʽJesusʼ is a desperate Jobian plea because "I gave you my love but you tore me to pieces, have mercy please Jesus", and ʽAnemoneʼ puts the blame on his girl because "you should be picking me up, instead you're dragging me down", and both are steadily and very lightly simmering with anxiety and paranoia, but neither of the two dares bring up the tempo or kick it up otherwise in the energy department, because, well, you know, it might just spoil that hot summer mood. Everything has to be slow, quiet, implied rather than felt directly, or it won't fit the rules of the game. Don't believe me? The next-to-last track is called ʽSlowdown (Fuck Tomorrow)ʼ, and it sounds like Syd Barrett had a twin brother who was even more incapacitated.

Despite all this, no thumbs down from me. I understand that the record has a certain purpose and a certain style, and that there are certain people and certain circumstances for which it could be much more useful than the first Satanic Majesties' Request. I do believe that the grooves could be made more interesting and less derivative, but this is, after all, an album that openly celebrates the idea of «laziness», and such an album should consist of nothing but «lazy» melodies with «lazy» arrangements, to which lazy people would listen on lazy days, hanging out their lazy tongues and staring at static skies with lazy eyes. That purpose is definitely fulfilled to some ex­tent, and so, from an objective stance, I couldn't honestly say this is a «bad» record. I could honestly say, though, that it relates to the original Satanic Majesties — as well as most of its other influences — much like Psycho II relates to the original Psycho, so do not fall for that type of legacy-claiming arrogance.

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