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The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire McLusky
One thing was certain about early-’90s indie rock: On the whole, it distrusted its audience. The members of your favorite band were probably never quite sure whether you were cool enough to be enjoying all those loud, witty, low-fi tunes, no matter how aloof you tried to act at shows. But that distrust was integral to the indie-rocker/nerdy-crowd transaction: The deep current of loathing on both sides was what made the music so vital, even at its most downcast. When you don’t care what the people think, you can do whatever you want, and the sounds of indie rock were nothing if not personal.
In many ways, McLusky says, “Fuck all that.” Drop the laser anywhere on the Welsh trio’s new LP, The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire, and the riffs that erupt are très 1992, to be sure: the Pixies, Superchunk, Silkworm, Seaweed, Jesus Lizard, even a little Sonic Youth and Pavement. (The list could go on and on.) But there’s one difference: The band sounds as if it’s having a blast, even with taskmaster Steve Albini manning the production booth.
Whereas the group’s breakout disc, 2002’s McLusky Do Dallas, was a blistering, Brit-flavored recapitulation of what made Surfer Rosa so great, Difference is more measured and more nuanced. But that’s like saying a well-placed car bomb is subtler than a rocket-propelled grenade: Both get the job done; the former merely requires a little more tactical know-how. This time around, the drum sounds are crisper, the guitars bubble and boil like never before, and vocalist Andy Falkous is given plenty of room to refine his intelligent-savage schtick.
Two tracks pretty much encapsulate Difference’s extremes: “She Will Only Bring You Happiness,” which closely follows the Stephen Malkmus/Spiral Stairs template, and “Icarus Smicarus,” which likely will induce jealousy in any pissed-off demi-genius who’s ever picked up a guitar. They’d make a brilliant A-side/B-side combo. New drummer Jack Egglestone provides “Happiness” with a stout, forceful beat, but the rest of the song is the perfect demonstration of McLusky’s ability to resuscitate the slacked-out summertime sounds of a decade ago. Unlike Malkmus, though, Falkous is a carefree showman: “Note to self/Be erect by half-past-10/Be strong, be proud/Be able, be charmed/Be extended, be in motion…” Pavement didn’t do dick jokes.
“Icarus Smicarus,” by contrast, is one of those numbers that make all that chiming stuff seem hopelessly dainty. A sort of sequel to Dallas’ signature number, “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues,” the track delivers some satisfying verbal aggression on the verse (“Get back in your hole, get dead/Son/…Crawl under a rock, get fucked”) and a chorus that could’ve been a mantra for first-wave hardcore fans: “Get out of those shoes and grow wings, dear.” But it’s the riff that truly swings hard. Whether it’s played by Falkous or bassist/guitarist Jon Chapple doesn’t matter. This does: You can hear the ions dancing in the air when it rips through the room.
Of course, plenty of other guitar-driven clamor can be found on Difference, from the weirdo stomp of the opener, “Without MSG I Am Nothing,” to the sidling onslaught of “You Should Be Ashamed, Seamus,” which may or may not be about Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. At any rate, it’s one of the disc’s moments of relative clarity: “Hey, hey, heroes of stay-away fiction/What’s the point of leaving home when you own it?/What’s the point of do-it-yourself when it looks so shit that these kids can’t even feed themselves?” If there’s a comment on the current state of the Celtic music scene hiding in there, it’s not alone: On “She Will Only Bring You Happiness,” Falkous offers, “Note to invading aliens/Avoid this town/Like this town avoided us.” Like Frank Black, our man loves the abstract. But he possesses a much deadlier tongue when he touches down to earth.
The Pixies influence is strongest on Difference’s second half, especially on “Forget About Him, I’m Mint.” With Clashy vocals ably handled by Chapple and purposefully clumsy trumpet lines delivered by Shellac’s Bob Weston, the song serves up the desert-fever sounds of Bossanova with a bit of Southwestern salsa. And the sustained guitar notes on “1956 and All That” and the screaming licks on “Slay!” owe more than a little bit to Joey Santiago. But check the way the latter updates those loud-soft-loud dynamics: The soft part is near-silence; the loud reminds you of why there used to be a whole genre called “mean rock.”
Most bands that earn Pixies comparisons usually come off too reverent, too careful, or too smart for their own good. And how many bands have gone into the studio with Albini and left with a record that sounded way edgy but also kinda henpecked? Too many to count.
McLusky gets around all that by trusting its gut, which seems to believe that an evening well spent might involve rocking hard and loud and long and then asking a few of the locals to sit down and have a few pints. True, Falkous & Co. take the whole circa-1992 thing pretty seriously, but they also don’t buy the old indie-rock idea that things were better back before everyone else discovered the scene. As much as it’s about rage, The Difference Between Me and You Is That I’m Not on Fire is a fairly friendly disc: Even when the band is chainsawing its way through one of its more brutal compositions, there’s a sense of love jumping from the notes, a sense that a song is, after all, meant to be listened to. We’re all cool enough for that. CP