Album Review by Mark Bayross
Bill Callahan, AKA Smog, became a bit of a cult figure with his last album, KNOCK KNOCK, with its tales of bitter recriminations and destructive relationships. After all, this is a man who sang “I hope you don’t mind if I grab your private life, slap it on the table and split it with a knife.”
Things haven’t changed much, then. DRESS SEXY AT MY FUNERAL, for instance, is an instruction to his widow to relate to the congregation at his funeral all the places they ever made love, but, as always, this intimacy hides a nasty sting: “Dress sexy at my funeral my good wife / For the first time in your life”.
The confessional STRAYED continues the church theme, a prayer for forgiveness for a rather obtuse list of misdemeanours, while the title track drifts along like ghosts through a graveyard.
Other songs, such the brooding opener JUSTICE AVERSION, have chunky electronics. THE HARD ROAD’s slo-mo beats and guitar power chords offer a dramatic contrast to the delicately woven tapestry of songs like the piano-driven EASILY LED and the slow-burning NINETEEN.
At times Callahan’s Lou Reed-style singing sounds at odds with the lyrics: the jolly, bouncy beats, bongos and guitar of BLOODFLOW and cheery delivery paint the blackest of comedy pictures: “No time for a tete-à-tety / Can I borrow your machete?” The addition of cheerleaders at the end nudges it firmly into the realm of the surreal.
But the intensity of the music wins through: listen to the throbbing bass of DISTANCE build up into its crescendo of guitars and it’s hard not to be impressed. The words, of course, remain bleak as ever: “All these women have passed through me / I have turned them all to waste”.
The closing PERMANENT SMILE sees Callahan revelling in the last moments of his life as he lies dying on a beach, complete with twinkling guitars and a slow pounding drum emulating his heartbeat. Only he could can find such beauty in the moment of death: “…the flesh rotting off my skull / And I will have earned my permanent smile”.
This album has an intensity and imagination that will bring you back again and again. The music mines a furrow somewhere between The Afghan Whigs and Massive Attack, and while the bleak lyrics won’t be to everyone’s taste, they add a fascinating insight into Callahan’s mildly deranged mind.