Saturday, 16 March 2013

D CDs #489: Coracle

There's an old story that goes like this: an author walks in to his publisher's office. "What do you think of my latest manuscript", the author asks. "It's both good and original" responds the publisher, "Unfortunately, the parts that are good are not original, and the parts that are original are not good".

It's probably not hard to think of examples of this phenomenon.  But let's not forget that it could be worse.  I can imagine no response the Casablanca executives could have had to listening to Destroyer than to say "It's both horribly derivative and uniquely awful."

If only the intersection wasn't so large...

It's not often an album can piss the listener off before it's made it to the second bar.  Making you wait more than ninety seconds for the opening chords to "Detroit Rock City" manages that job splendidly, however.  It's not a disaster of a song - indeed the album rarely does any better; who doesn't like recursive lyrics, after all? - but as a hymn to high-speed hedonistic joy, it's flabby and stilted. Most unforgivable, though, it lacks the one ingredient every call-out to balls-out rocking needs; a sense of including one's audience.

This self-absorption is a recurring problem here, particularly in the first half of the album.  On the rare occasions these songs move beyond Stanley and Simmons explaining how awesome they are ("I'm the king of the night-time world!") it's purely to check whether or not a pretty girl is prepared to fuck them.  Often the two themes are combined. Simmons's "Great Expectations" is the ultimate nadir here, a hideously discomforting song in which Simmons informs us that we've seen what he can do to songs with his tongue and guitars with his hands, and don't we wish we were being played like that, huh?  It's the kind of song you can imagine a forty your old fat man singing tunelessly in a mosh pit as he looks for women he can grope and pretend it was accidental, which makes the children's choir pressed into service in the (not entirely bad) chorus all the more disturbing.

What doesn't come drenched in the flop-sweat of lust is marred by trying too hard along a different vector; what we might term the Marilyn Manson "I'm dead evil, me!" effect.  There's no other way to explain the dreadful "God of Thunder", in which we learn that the aforementioned deity is also the God of rock and roll and, just by coincidence, takes the form of one Gene Simmons (before whom you're commanded to kneel, by the way, because obviously).  Marrying lyrics about slowly stealing girl's souls (and wouldn't you want steal a girl's soul quickly, like ripping off a plaster, or a facehugger?) with panto clown make-up and knuckle-dusters makes it clear that the whole enterprise is designed to ride the same frisson Elvis had already mined out in the '50s, only with no idea whatsoever about how it's supposed to be done. Glam was a movement founded in the superficial, yes, but the idea was to track how twisting the superficial could reveal what lay underneath.  Destroyer is just surface all the way down.  It's not even a very attractive surface.  Is it any wonder "Beth" did better than it's bargain-basement Rod Stewart impression would suggest it ever could?  At least it sounds like the lyrics condense a wider picture, rather than simply flashing genitals pierced with cheap silver plastic skulls.

Things begin to pick up as "Flaming Youth" leads us into the disc's second half, though that's only because a pale Who imitation welded to an unwieldy chorus at least sounds like it was written for other to enjoy rather than to try and score some hot ass whilst a cat plays drums.  You've got the aforementioned "Beth" - vacuous but well intended, and a string part that hovers so close to the original Battlestar Galactica theme that it's impossible to criticise - as well as lead single "Shout It Out Loud", which still sounds pretty good 37 years after it was recorded. Doubtless this is in no small part because it finally deigns to make a connection with the listener.  Exhorting a crowd to "shout it out loud" is only one step removed from rhyming "hands in the air" with "don't care", but at least the band have finally realised someone else has shown up to the party.

And then we hit the last track proper here [1] , "Do You Love Me".  As it's title suggests, this song manages to match the depths of self-regard and self-absorption that blight the rest of the album, and add in enraging lashings of self-doubt. As if it wasn't bad enough hearing these buffoons boast about being kings and gods, we've got to suffer them fretting that maybe their women are only with them because of how stylish and rich and sexy they are? 

Yes, there's room for, even a need for, songs and albums that explore the contradiction between one's confidence and paranoia.  But self-obsession must come with at least a spoonful of self-awareness, or it's simply impossible to swallow.  Demanding fellatio whilst impersonating an ancient deity and then demanding your girlfriend prove she's not superficial is hardly going to cut it.

So it's glam without the motivation, The Who without the connection or talent, and Marilyn Manson without the nifty artwork, all clumsily garnished with Kiss's own apish testosterone-drenched preening and the occasional panicked realisation that none of this is really worth a damn anyway.

Maybe it's not quite as devoid of self-awareness as I thought...

Three tentacles.

[1] The 85 seconds of instrumental closer "Rock and Roll Party" hardly counts, given its length and the fact it's a collage of previous Kiss tracks rolled into one.  How fucking hard is it for you to write a new Kiss instrumental piece, Kiss? Three obvious chords and a half-hearted guitar lick and you can fuck off down the pub, Kiss. 


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