Before I begin talking about Welsh trio Mclusky’s new album, let me brag a little bit. We at Mundane Sounds gave you the scoop about their previous album, 2002’s Mclusky Do Dallas, way before the folks at bigger, trendier publications (one of which rhymes with “switch fork,” ahem) did. Shortly thereafter, Mclusky Do Dallas became a sleeper hit in the world of underground rock, with critics the world over fawning over their buzzing guitars, manic vocals, and hilarious misanthropy. Speaking personally, I know that everyone who listened to this record in my presence walked away with at least three quotable lyrics stuck in their heads. “All of your friends are c*nts! Your mother is a ball-point pen thief!” “We take more drugs than a touring funk band!” “The gun’s in my hand, and I know it looks bad, but believe me---I’m innocent!” Those are my three, and there are enough on the record to ensure that no two listeners’ choices will be alike.
The band’s knack for humorous hooks was one of two things that kept Mclusky from being just another of many Pixies and Jesus Lizard disciples to cross paths with super-“recorder” Steve Albini. The other is guitarist Andy Falkous’ voice, a nasal sneer that sounded like Jello Biafra having the mother of all hissyfits, and could shoot into a piercing falsetto at any given moment. On The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire, only one of these two elements is present in abundance. Compared to their previous album, this long-awaited follow-up has a surprising dearth of memorable lyrics. Don’t get me wrong --- the band’s levity hasn’t completely disappeared. On opener “Without MSG I Am Nothing,” Falkous shouts, “Don’t teach him how to cook; that’ll kill him!” “You Should Be Ashamed, Seamus” mocks amateurish underground musicians with the line, “What’s the point of DIY when it looks so sh*t?” However, those are the only two moments on the record that made me laugh. The band’s sarcasm has been mostly replaced with anger and bloodlust, and the music reflects this change as well.
For most of the album Mclusky foregoes the use of bass guitar; Jon Chapple opts instead to play a de-tuned electric guitar. This configuration makes the new material sound as hollow as it is abrasive. I like the new sound, but other listeners’ mileage may vary. Many of the songs are tense exercises in minimalism and dynamics. A third of the songs consist of little more than two chords, a driving rhythm, and lots of distorted ranting. “Slay!” takes the Pixies’ dynamic transitions to ridiculous extremes: the verses slowly disappear into nothingness, whereas the choruses are so loud that the vocals are completely obliterated. Eight-minute album closer “Support Systems” is basically what “Slay!” would sound like if it were clicked and dragged to nearly three times its normal length. The searing slide guitars and hip-hop drumming of “1956 and All That” render both Boxcar Satan and Limp Bizkit completely obsolete. “Your Children Are Waiting for You to Die” begins with a tape collage of out-of-tune acoustic guitars, and then turns into a plodding account of a raver irresponsibly blowing his trust fund. The close-interval guitar arpeggios of “Falco vs. the Young Canoeist” make the song sound like Sonic Youth gone screamo.
The darker, artier approach of the music suits the lyrics nicely. As said before, Mclusky have eschewed their standard funny quips for vague stories that barely make any literal sense. From what I gather, “That Man Will Not Hang” is about a boring art film that tells a love story, “Slay!” details a plan to save a serial killer from getting caught by the police, and “Support Systems” sums up life as a “battle between ghosts and liars.” As far as deciphering the rest of the songs, you’re on your own. My favorite songs on this record tend to be the most tuneful. The Pavement-aping “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” should be a shoo-in for a lead single, with the snake charmer’s melody of “Without MSG I Am Nothing” and the horn fanfares of “Forget About Him I’m Mint” trailing closely behind.
While Mclusky are to be commended for not giving us Mclusky Do Dallas Again, the absence of both humor and melody from most of the songs may make The Difference... a record easier for many to admire than to listen to. I’ve cranked it up on a near-daily basis for the last couple of weeks, so I am far from disappointed. Even the worst songs on this record (like "Lucky Jim") just flat-out ROCK! However, I must admit if I were trying to turn a newcomer on to Mclusky, I would put on Do Dallas first and let them get to its follow-up on their own.