What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?
Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Rather, we elected to let our four main writers have a chance to write about any and all of the albums they felt shaped the last decade.
From now through the end of December, Monday through Thursday, AD will feature a post, or posts, from a particular writer detailing their favorite albums of the decade. On a given week there might be one album a writer talks about, there might be six, but they’ll get a chance to have their say on everything that comes to mind. Our hope for you, the reader, is that you’ll jump in with your comments on the album selections – tell us why you agree or disagree – and also be exposed to some albums that you may have missed over the last ten years. Now, as the decade starts to wind down, let’s celebrate.
At this point, a full 40 years since the Stooges released their debut album, it’s a little hard to make punk (or post-punk or whatever) exciting. And if it’s strictly aggressive music, well, maybe this is my bias from getting older, but as my friend, Mad Dog, once said, “I just don’t have that bad a day anymore.”
In punk the best bands have largely been bright supernovas that burst and then disappear as the righteous fusion of their beginning burned out. Welsh trio Mclusky did just that, releasing three records in four years and then grinding to an acrimonious halt. And while two-thirds of the band have gone on to start another project (the equally excellent Future of the Left), there is something to be said for keeping it simple and not overstaying your welcome, whether on purpose or not. The band’s 2002 album, Do Dallas, is probably its most immediately accessible, full to the brim with one raucous, catchy post-punk rant after another, but its darker, nastier and heavier follow up and band swan song, The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire, is the band’s best artistic work and stands as one of the great aggressive rock records of the 00s.
The band wisely called producer Steve Albini back to the boards for this album. Albini had produced Do Dallas and had brought out the snarling, prickly guitars he’s famous for highlighting. Albini’s hand was well suited for the task – Mclusky had obviously listened to some Big Black along the way and Mclusky’s earlier work had garnered a lot of comparisons to the Pixies in its manic, freaked-out song structures and surrealistic, snarky lyrics.
The Difference Between Me And You.. is a distinctly darker affair than its predecessor though and the difference is obvious starting with opener “Without MSG I Am Nothing.” The absurd crowing that cuts through the song is a pale comic relief to the thick, grizzled guitars. “That Man Will Not Hang” is the song that most closely resembles Do Dallas‘ sound and structure as the guitars become thinner for a moment, but “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” throws out the album’s first true monkey wrench. Maybe it’s simply in relief to the song’s smirking surroundings, but it is a truly emotional and moving song – at least until the closing singing (in rounds, no less) of the phrase “Our old singer is / a sex criminal.” But the band’s stock and trade has been a dismantling and re-arranging of rock and roll traditions, so it makes sense to undermine the album’s most fragile moment. It wouldn’t do to let it stand.
The middle section of the album devolves into a challenging set of songs that range from plodding, wandering, unsettling stories (“Your Children Are Waiting For You To Die”) to thick, shouty and sometimes unintelligible hyper-dirges (“Lucky Jim,” “Icarus Smicarus,” “You Should Be Ashamed, Seamus”). It’s this commitment to abandoning the first third of the album’s reinvestment in the catchy, quick post-punk of their previous album that lifts this album above it in overall worth. “Forget About Him I’m Mint” snaps the album back into focus with its martial drums, cheekily Middle Eastern horns and guitar melody just in time for “1956 and All That” to brutally re-engage the thick guitars of the album’s beginning.
Mclusky were one of the true high points of loud music this decade and whether it was the elevated snark of their words or the pummeling throttle of their overall sound, they seemed invigorated and endlessly new where so much similarly identified music had sounded and felt dead on arrival. words/ j. neas