Of records rooted to place and time. Records as photographs, as aide-mémoire (only – you know – more so; this is music we’re talking about… we’re not to be let off lightly). When did I last listen to BRMC? I don’t know (but was probably drunk). Elsewhere, for certain; a different city, another time zone, the first half of the 2000’s like that final, cliff-hanging episode of a TV show that never made too much sense in the first place.
An apt simile in a way, considering how many times ‘Spread Your Love’ has been used as soundtrack shorthand for edge, grit and pathos whenever film, television, and the advertising executives come calling. Authenticity being the issue at hand, the sleazy contrails of a West Coast garage rock aesthetic up against vogue, and a sneaking suspicion of too much forced posture enfolded within the narrative.
You know what’s grand? Heavy juju, that’s what. “She cuts my skin and bruise my lips, she’s everything to me,” Peter Hayes sings on opener ‘Love Burns’. “She tears my clothes and burns my eyes, she’s all I want to see.” The universality of ‘Great Balls of Fire’. The sincerity of Patti Smith’s ‘Dancing Barefoot’. The awkward subjugation of bruise as verb. It’s familiar territory, but also poignant. Vivid. A hazy friction between soapbox derby guitars and the helter-skelter, languid urgency of the vocal (and how wonderful it is to have acoustic guitar so prominent in the mix).
There are albums that grab attention with the one-two punch (or, in the case of Hole’s Celebrity Skin, the one-two-three); a positioning of material through which the opening gambit dictates tone and timbre of the entire LP. Others – BRMC included – create cohesion through cause and effect, final number ‘Salvation’ the inverted image of a lost/found ‘Love Burns’ endgame.
Yes; ‘Salvation’ sounds like ‘Tender’ by Blur on smack, with lyrics written by J Spaceman. Which is a compliment of sorts; there’s always going to be a faintly derivative sheen to a record such as BMRC, if only because its major label, 2001 backdrop serves as some sort of prophecy of self-validation, yet considering both tracks as the start and end they were intended to be, and there’s the suggestion of something urgent in-between of which to get teeth into.
In other words, there’s an evocation behind the first four and final six minutes of this that segue with the loose memories of those strung out, emotionally banjaxed, by Grand Central Station I sat down and wept years.
And to a degree, there-in dwells the problem with BRMC. For however seductive the bass guitar or scuzzy the effects pedals deployed in the remaining nine tracks, there’s an unexpected and not especially contextual cleanliness hiding within the narcotic swirls of each melody. The production’s a little too sharp, tilting a track such as ‘Awake’ –with its potentially monolithic chorus – toward a trot through trope. ‘White Palms’ remains craving dirt right up until fade-out. ‘Too Real’ is too generic. ‘Head Up High’ feels contused, as if secretly wishing At The Drive-In were at the controls.
Even the big singles – ‘Spread Your Love’ and the twice-released ‘Whatever Happened to my Rock and Roll (Punk Song)’ – carry a scrubbed-up San Franciscan vibe that sits in contrast to Hayes’ work as a inmate of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (and whilst not a long-term member of the latter, he did play on Give It Back! – a riot of Hanna-Barbera chutzpah that’s such the deliberate fake, it transcends any accusation of falsehood). BRMC isn’t fakery but – like so much of San Francisco itself – it has been gentrified, the danger bleached out, condos and tourist trinkets crowding out the freaks from the sidewalk.