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Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: Give It Back!

THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE: GIVE IT BACK! (1997)

1) Super-Sonic; 2) This Is Why You Love Me; 3) Satellite; 4) Malela; 5) Salaam; 6) Whoever You Are; 7) Sue; 8) (You Better Love Me) Before I Am Gone; 9) Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth; 10) #1 Hit Jam; 11) Servo; 12) The Devil May Care (Mom & Dad Don't); 13) Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request.

It's too bad there are but 365 days in a year, because Give It Back! sounds so very much like those preceding three albums, it might just as well have been written and recorded by Newcombe in a matter of just a few more days, and then The Brian Jonestown Massacre would have four re­cords released within one year and set a personal high that even Frank Zappa would find rather hard to beat. There are some new band members here, including guitarist Peter Hayes who stayed with the band but briefly and then went on to form the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but let that not bother you, because Newcombe is the Ian Anderson of this band and he ain't never letting its identity slip away or be usurped by an intruder, no matter how many different brands of hard drugs he is on at any given particular moment.

Some fans actually regard this as a special high point in BJM history, swearing by Give It Back! as a masterpiece or the culmination of everything that made this band so great — a sentiment I find hard to share, because the word «culmination» indicates some sort of growth or at least some sort of «still haven't found (var.: finally have found) what I'm looking for» idea, whereas New­combe's Sixties-fueled, drug-powered brain does not really function all that much in «search» mode — it simply has its own steady rate of predetermined metabolism. I could not even begin to describe in general what separates Give It Back! from the 1996 albums — so let us just talk a bit about the individual songs instead.

ʽSuper-Sonicʼ has a cool groove going on, with a bluesy bassline, funky percussion, Indian sitars, and noisy shoegaze-style lead guitars in the background — a freaky, typically BJM combination of ingredients, over which Anton pours out his usual vegetative-state mumbly philosophizing about living alone and how it's alright for him and not alright for her. As predictable as the song's strengths are, its flaws are equally easy to guess — it is a bit hard to sit through a five-minute song where everything that could have happened did so over the introduction and the first few bars of the main theme. But this complaint, as usual, applies to everything here that runs over three minutes and irritates people whose attention span for this kind of music qualifies as «short» (like myself, who'd rather waste my time on something a little more energetic and dynamic than the BJM — like Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon).

Most of the other songs, if they are good, display this goodness in the same way: one nice melody looped in static mode. If they are not very good... they have one boring melody looped in static mode, like ʽSatelliteʼ, which simply takes the old ʽGreen Onionsʼ theme, modifies it very slightly, piles up additional acoustic and electric guitars, but does not care about making it snappy and aggressive — the whole thing limps, and if you're gonna limp all the way, at least do it in a more moody fashion. ʽSueʼ, the longest track on the album, is much better, especially in headphones where you have one folk-style lead guitar part serenading in your left ear and one heavy wah-wah blues-rock part blaring away in your right ear, but both mixed in at low volumes so as not to drown out the basic rhythm track — or else, God forbid, you might want to play air guitar or something instead of just bobbing your head up and down and sideways at the trance-inducing sound waves. But yeah, that wah-wah solo is actually quite frantic when you focus on it.

Of special note might be the brief jangle-rock tune ʽThis Is Why You Love Meʼ, which cannot really be anything other than a loving tribute to Gene Clark's ʽI'll Feel A Whole Lot Betterʼ — the difference being that, for some reason, the BJM track is neither played, nor sung, nor produced as nice-and-tight as any of the early Byrds material (go figure). And on the fast-paced ʽMalelaʼ, they try to play the sitar as if it were a banjo (well, sitars and banjos do have similar timbres, don't they?), even borrowing a few note sequences from ʽPaint It Blackʼ, but the end result is mildly funny rather than depressing.

The song ʽNot If You Were The Last Dandy On Earthʼ caused some controversy — formally, it was an obvious answer to The Dandy Warhols' ʽNot If You Were The Last Junkie On Earthʼ: apparently, the Warhols' song was a friendly reprimand of the BJM for sticking to drugs in an age when drugs are already so passé, to which Newcombe replies with a reprimand of the Warhols for sticking to «dandyism» when dandyism is already so passé, well, you know the rest. At least it helps Anton get a little angry and play some pissed-off distorted leads on a true garage rocker, although I would not describe it as a particularly good song — they just thought it necessary to hit back (not very successfully, because the Warhols' track was a commercial hit on the UK charts, whereas the BJM never charted at all).

The album also continues the age-honored tradition of putting your album title in one place and your song title in another — the lead-out track is ʽTheir Satanic Majesties' Second Requestʼ, a rather boring sonic collage whose only distinctive point is the sound of heavy snoring, looped all over the track and possibly sampled from the Stones' ʽIn Another Landʼ, or, at least, paying tri­bute to that song and Bill Wyman's massive lung activity. Not that the song title has anything to do with the collage, or Newcombe has anything to do with Bill Wyman, or anything has got to do with anything — all of this is on a simple take-it-or-leave-it level. I take some of it, but, as usual, I'd rather distill this album down to about 15 minutes of music rather than accept it as 55.

2 comments:

  1. 'rather waste my time on something a little more energetic and dynamic than the BJM — like Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon).'

    Ouch!

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  2. "Most of the other songs, if they are good, display this goodness in the same way: one nice melody looped in static mode. If they are not very good... they have one boring melody looped in static mode . . ."

    ^^^^
    THIS. True of every BJM album, in my opinion. Also the song titles that do not appear to relate in any way to the content of said songs.

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