Friday, February 20, 2009

Songs About Fucking

Band: Big Black
Album: Songs For Lovers About Fucking
Best song: The band's cover of "The Model" is amazing. "L Dopa" is probably the album's highlight.
Worst song: "Pavement Saw" is not a strong song.

Is Steve Albini a bigot?

The song "Passing Complexion" -- from 1986's Atomizer -- contains the Albini-penned liner notes that read as such:

in certain circumstances, a man could prefer to lose his entire heritage, when another more comfortable one presents itself, especially if he plays piano, especially if it's 1926.

The song is about a black man being mistaken for a white man.

The band's final record, Songs About Fucking's penultimate song is entitled "Tiny, King of the Jews" (following the construction of "Pete, King of All Detectives," a song from the Headache EP). The song's final bit -- allegedly spoken through the mind of a bigot -- is as such:

Man's gotta hate someone, and I guess I'll do
And when I'm through with myself, I'll start on you
I started out hating myself, now that I'm through
I'm looking for someone to hate, guess you'll do

Albini calls it all satire. In the same way "Kerosene" mocks those in towns where fire is amusement, "Tiny, King of the Jews" satirizes the bigots who turn to ethnicity as a reason to hate.

I buy it, for what it's worth.


There is absolutely no doubt that Albini cultivates -- through his music, his prickly on-stage persona and his even more prickly interviews -- a certain misanthropic bent. When he wrote a zine column in college, he admittedly tried to rile students up by writing crap he didn't believe. This is, after all, a guy who called a band "Rapeman" and enjoyed it when feminists got angry.


Big Black records are not the type for the faint of heart. Atomizer's highlights include "Kerosene," "Cables" (a song about slaughterhouses), "Jordan, Minnesota" (about a family that ritualistically molested kids) and "Bad Houses," which is either about whorehouses or drughouses. As the lyric says, "Places no respectable man would be seen."

Songs About Fucking is no different. "L Dopa" tells the story of heavy sedatives. "Bad Penny" tells the ultimate misanthrope's taunt ("I always come back to you.") and "Fish Fry" tells of a woman killed after being raped. Also, "Colombian Necktie."

Those, by the way, are just the lyrics.

Big Black's drumming was done by "Roland," a Roland TR-606 drum machine and it sounds, charitably, like a machine gun. The bass is round and punishing. Between Albini and Santiago Durango, the guitar sound reminds one of a buzzsaw ripping through tough surfaces.

The album begins with a cacophony of Roland and the combination of Albini's guitar and his nasal scream, intoning "the backbone of this country is the independent truck!"

And the record goes from there. "Columbian Necktie" is mildly melodic. "Bad Penny" has outstanding starts and stops. "Kasimir S. Pulaski Day" throttles the listener, "Precious Things" is a wonderful attack on love and "The Model" is, well, as delicious a Kraftwerk cover by a guitar band can be.


Songs About Fucking is a delicious album. It's rapid-fire musicianship and stripped-down production speaks to Albini's great strengths as a band leader and, ahem, engineer. But, it's misanthropy that makes the record brilliant.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Band: Thin Lizzy
Album: Jailbreak
Best song: The title track and, of course, "The Boys Are Back In Town."
Worst song: "Warriors" isn't great.

I'm going to make this brief, largely to get some content on the site...

It's really easy to mock Jailbreak as pure nonsense. And I won't disagree. The cognitive dissonance of an Irish band singing "Cowboy Song" is just too great to really fathom. Or the fact that the best version of a Thin Lizzy original is by Belle & Sebastian (Their version of "The Boys Are Back In Town" is priceless).

But, the fact is this: Like the first Boston record, Jailbreak is full of hooks and monster guitar riffs and solos. The harmonized melody of "The Boys Are Back In Town" takes Tom Scholtz' best work in Boston to a different place and the riffing in the title track is heavy at the bottom.

"Cowboy Song" is strange, but good. "Romeo and the Lonely Girl" is an attempt to sound smart, while "Fight or Fall" is a softer track -- the kind of thing people held their lighters for during the countless stadium shows. "Angel from the Coast" has a sold Phil Lynott vocal. "Running Back" is a classic 70s breakup song and could easily have been done by Fleetwood Mac.

That's a compliment.

So, yeah. Mock it if you want, but Jailbreak is a fine album.