Monday, 7 October 2013
D CDs #483: correct!
Some classic albums are extremely good. Others are merely Important.
One of the most aggravating aspects of music criticism is the common assumption that an album proving game-changing is a necessary and/or sufficient condition for listening to it decades later. Pitchfork Media in particular has turned this idea into an art form - good luck wresting more than a six out of them if your disc merely has the temerity to be an exceptionally good example of a well-established genre - but it's a fairly common problem.
It's a conflation, really, of music as history and music as entertainment. A blueprint is often very valuable, but that doesn't make it nice to look at. No-one still creates antibiotics by leaving their petri dishes on the windowsill. The vogue these days is for chrome rims rather than wooden tyres. Things, in short, move on.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong of me to ignore the contribution of Entertainment! entirely. Straddling the dividing line between the Damned and the Clash - both cited as influences, though by the time Entertainment! had been recorded London's finest had still yet to release London's Calling - the disc takes a darker and more minimalist path than Strummer's band. In the process it breaks ground on the dark expanses the Cure would play around with so successfully once they got Three Imaginary Boys out of their system and settled down to work (the perpendicular distance between the two bands is shortest between Entertainment!'s melodica-spiced "5.45" and the Cure's Seventeen Seconds). From there vectors can be drawn to contemporary bands like The Cribs - Sharpe guitar stabs on strings apparently plucked with razorblades - and the sharp maudlin droning of LCD Soundsystem.
So, yes. Music in general and punk in particular needed this. It was a Big Fucking Deal. Does that mean it must be enjoyable, too? Of course not.
Fortunately, though, it really is.
Well, maybe I should qualify that. It's very enjoyable in short doses. I'd suggest approaching it as three sets of four songs. As a whole, the CD loses momentum through repetition. That's not an inevitable consequence of ploughing the same furrow, of course; indeed that kind of reiteration can be very effective in accumulation. Here, though, things are simply too sparse for that tactic to work.
With each (admittedly arbitrary) division allowed to breathe, the effect is far greater. Each short suite gets its own driving force, whether that be the delirious guitar slashes of "Natural's Not In It", the insistent wig-out of "I Found That Essence Rare", or the relentless taut violence of "5.45" (seriously, starting this laundry list of horrors with a melodica is a move of unquestionable genius).
It's three EPs on the themes of isolation both emotional - "Glass, "Contract" - and political - the call-out to political prisoners in Long Kesh that provides the backbone of album opener "Ether" - that slam together in "I Found That Essence Rare", bikinis being after all both a way to ogle women and an atoll where we let nuclear weapons out to play. The personal may be political, but that's only because they both seem so far outside control to the young, or to the smart.
Being reminded of that isn't pleasant, but maybe we need it. So it's important those reminders come at us looking like this.
It's important that they be good.