CARDIACS: GUNS (1999)
1) Spell With A Shell; 2) There's Good Cud; 3) Wind And Rains Is Cold; 4) Cry Wet Smile Dry; 5) Jitterbug; 6) Sleep All Eyes Open; 7) Come Back Clammy Lammy; 8) Clean That Evil Mud Out Your Soul; 9) Ain't He Messy Though; 10) Signs; 11) Song Of A Dead Pest; 12) Will Bleed Amen.
I wish I could say something like «on the last Cardiacs album, Tim Smith comes to his senses and delivers a meaningful, resonant swansong where all of the band's strengths combine in logical rather than narcisitically irritant ways». But Guns was never ever intended as the band's swansong, and even though in terms of complexity and accessibility, it is clearly an intentional step back from the brainkill of Sing To God, very little had truly changed on the main segments of the Cardiacs' front over those three last years of the Nineties.
With the same lineup and the same stylistics, Guns is Sing To God's little underdeveloped brother — another energetic, psychotic, overblown celebration of God-knows-what for God-knows-whatever-reasons. Tracks like ʻThere's Good Cudʼ or ʻWill Bleed Amenʼ are excellent representatives of their prog-pop-punk hybrid, with the distorted riffs taken from punk, the ditzy keyboards and vocal harmonies from pop, and the constant tempo and structural changes from prog — meaning that all the good sides of all these genres generally get neutralized by each other, and leave me feeling neither angry nor joyful nor even too perplexed at what I have just heard (and the exact same thing goes for the lyrics, which, by and by, seem to have been written based on a purely aleatory principle — "there's good cud, there's dead good sticker sing mercy alive hot dog love's a-winnin'" is a typical example — could we please alert the Bullshit Police?).
I count one track here that is really interesting and could be recommended to a wide audience: ʻJitterbugʼ, after a few minutes of the usual Cardiacal mess (mutually counteracting indie-rock guitar and New Wave keyboards, each of them existing in its own autonomous world), suddenly transforms into some sort of medieval-inspired «psychedelic Mass», with Tim's spiralling vocals adorned by coherently spiralling kaleidoscopic keyboards and the whole thing acquiring an «alternative angelic» quality. When I compare this with the climactic resolution of ʻDirty Boyʼ on the previous record, I can't help but think that maybe Tim Smith missed his true vocation — reviving and reinventing the chorale form for a new age. Because once it's over, they get back to their usual tricks — playing rock music that does not have the feel of rock music, brewing a «delicious» stew of musical fish, pickles, and chocolate for those few select palates that can taste it and stomachs that can digest it.
Oddly enough, for the next eight years the band pretty much stopped releasing new material, concentrating instead on live performances (including focused revivals of their earliest songs from the cassette tape epoch and even before that) — before Tim Smith collapsed from a heart attack and stroke in 2008, from which he is still slowly trying to recover even now; so, for all we know, Guns may have to remain the last Cardiacs album for eternity. But since there is nothing about the album, either objectively or intutitively-subjectively, to suggest a «conclusive» nature, so too will I refrain from any conclusions and end this section on a «to be continued...» note. I mean, regardless of my attitude towards Tim Smith's music, there's no denying the unusual nature of his brain or the adventurousness of his spirit, so here's hoping for an eventual recovery and more of those awfully frustrating Cardiacs albums for us to argue about. In the meantime, I will try to leave this one unrated — at least it does not try the listener's patience for so much time, and I can add ʻJitterbugʼ to the small «best-of» collection that this band deserves, despite all the criticism.