April 21, 2006

Mclusky "Mcluskyism"

Welsh trio Mclusky is one of a small list of bands whom I frequently kick myself for not seeing live when I had the chance to (see also Unwound, Lenola and the Wicked Farleys). They only played one Texas date ever, which I missed because I didn’t have gas money to drive to Dallas. This especially sucks because their recordings exude the kind of ferocity that all great live shows possess. The band’s presciently-titled sophomore album Mclusky Do Dallas combined the skewed pop smarts of the Pixies with the aggression of Shellac (whose front man Steve Albini recorded all of Mclusky’s best material), and topped it off with an acerbic humor that the band could rightfully call their own. Mclusky broke up in 2005, right before critics could get the chance to accuse their antagonistic punk-pop of growing stale. Fans, on the other hand, were left wanting more. Because of such, the band has blessed us with a generous parting gift: Mcluskyism, a compilation that is available in two formats. The single-disc version collects all of their A-sides, and zooms by in a scant 30 minutes. There’s also a three-disc version that collects the A-sides and almost all of their B-sides, and adds a “C-sides” disc of unreleased and live material. Many critics have argued that the single-disc version is better, but I disagree. Besides, Tonevendor is selling the three-disc version for a mere three dollars more, so why NOT buy it?

The “A-sides” gambit is a nice way of sidestepping the task of compiling a proper best-of. Singer/guitarist Andy Falkous admonishes nitpickers and train-spotters to “compile your own damn album” in his predictably frank liner notes. If I took his advice, I’d have to include two more songs from their debut album My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours, three more songs from Dallas, and at least two of the songs on the B-sides disc. Nonetheless, there isn’t a single dud on the A-sides disc, and because the songs are arranged in chronological order, it serves as a quick overview of Mclusky’s artistic trajectory. The two songs from My Pain and Sadness display the band’s beginnings as first-rate Nirvana-bes. “Joy”’s excoriating screech is to In Utero what the speedy thrash of “Rice Is Nice” is to Nevermind. The next four songs, all of which are from Dallas, find the band firmly entrenched in its signature sound. Their knack for hilarious song titles (“Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues,” “To Hell With Good Intentions”), hedonistic boasts (“We take more drugs than a touring funk band”), vivid insults (“Your heart’s gone the color of Coca-Cola”) and pogo-worthy choruses is on full display. “There Ain’t No Fool in Ferguson” and “Undress for Success,” the only two A-sides that don’t appear on any of their albums, represent the band’s melodic peak. The final four songs are from their final album, 2004's The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire, and they announce the arrival of an artier, more sinister Mclusky. On these songs, the band focuses more on finding the most grating guitar sounds imaginable than they do on crafting strong hooks or witty one-liners, with the sole exception of the Pavement-esque “She Will Only Bring You Happiness.”

The B-sides disc follows the same pattern, albeit with a slightly lower batting average. The first 8 songs are from the My Pain sessions. At least five of them are better than the A-sides they were attached to. “Rock vs. Single Parents” boasts the awesome couplet, “Follow me down, we can chase single mothers/Around and around ‘til those sluts blow their cover!” “Balboa Theme” is a jangly paean to a downhearted friend, and showcases a tender side that I didn’t know the band had in them. The seven songs from the Dallas sessions predictably comprise the strongest stretch of the disc. “No Covers” is a lean, mean Albini machine whose central lyric seems to be a “South Park” reference (“If I can’t kill Kenny, then I can’t do anything right”). “Random Celebrity Insult Generator” constructs a miracle of pop madness out of two insults, three chords and lots of goofy hollering. The B-sides disc peaks with “Do the Mevolution,” a song that by all right should’ve been an A-side. The following track, “The Salt Water Solution,” ushers in a group of songs from the Difference sessions. The tempos get slower and the hooks get scarcer, but the band’s increasingly complex interplay handily compensates for it. Like every B-sides disc, this one has some really terrible stuff. The hiss-drenched acoustic ditty “Here Comes Joe” sounds like the kind of thing John Frusciante would have recorded for smack money a decade ago, and “Beacon for Pissed Ships” is devoid of anything resembling an actual tune. Still, 20 out of 22 ain’t bad!

The C-sides disc doesn’t have anything as good as the first disc’s best songs; on the other hand, it also doesn’t have anything as bad as the second disc’s worst songs. The feedback-drenched versions of “Love Song for a Mexican” and “Collagen Rock” are pointless, considering that both songs appear in superior form elsewhere on Mcluskyism. On the other hand, the version of “KKKitchens, What Were You Thinking?” is slower and better than the version that ended up on Difference. The clean guitars and smooth vocal harmonies of “The Difference Between Me and You...” wouldn’t have fit anywhere on the album of the same name. The other out-takes from the Difference sessions are a bit harder on the ears; there are melodies, but the guitars sound like trash compactors. What truly makes this disc worthwhile are the concluding nine songs, all of which come from the band’s penultimate London gig. The playing is tight, but Falkous sounds as if he’s going to choke on his own bile at any moment. My little brother walked in the livingroom while I was listening to this set and said, “Wow, these guys sound PISSED.” At one point a heckler shouts, “Why does your drummer play like a p*ssy?” Falkous and bassist Jon Chapple then spend the next two minutes insulting him with a viciousness that should’ve compelled him to leave the club at once and collect the remains of his dignity. These nine songs make me even sadder than I never got to see Mclusky do Dallas.

I wouldn’t recommend Mcluskyism for anyone who doesn’t already own their three proper albums. Those who do, though, will find the compilation to be yet more evidence of the band’s inestimable greatness. Here’s hoping the guys swallow their pride a decade from now and grace us with a reunion tour.

Artist Website: www.mclusky.net
Label Website: www.toopure.com

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