Cyr

cyr

Album: Cyr

Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins

Released: November 27th, 2020

Highlights: The Colour of Love, Dulcet in E, Wrath, Ramona, Anno Satana

Ever since their heyday in the 90s, when the fantastic sequence of albums comprised of “Siamese Dream” and “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” put them on top of the alternative rock world, The Smashing Pumpkins have been a bit of a mess. Active through most of that interval, with the exception of a six-year break, all of those who do not follow the music universe too closely would be easily forgiven for thinking Billy Corgan’s group had disbanded long ago. After all, the records they have put out since that pair of releases, with the exception of the very good “Adore” from 1998, have failed to make any impact with the general public; worse yet, lost amid lineup changes, internal fights, and the ego of a front-man who is a bit hard to deal with, the band has seen many of its early fans move on to other pastures.

Such a scenario may lead one to think that The Smashing Pumpkins have been pretty bad for nearly twenty years; and some are certain to build an argument in that direction, especially former fans who passionately followed them in the 90s. But, truth be told, even if continued relevance has eluded them and personnel consistency has been non-existent, the group has not really produced any work that straight up stinks. Sure, most of their output since the days of glory has been marred by silly conceptual grandeur that has repeatedly failed to come to fruition and – as the critics will point out – an impressive amount of embarrassing lyrics. But Corgan is, ultimately, too good of a songwriter to produce a major disaster of an album, let alone a bunch of them; and, as such, The Smashing Pumpkins have, in a way, remained afloat to the few who are listening and have continued to publish works that, though not excellent by any means, have been mostly good.

It is in that position that the band gets to its eleventh release, the mysteriously titled “Cyr”. However, this time around there is a twist, as the album is a product of the reunion of three of the four members the band had during its classic run, an encounter that had not happened since the year 2000. Truly, some will point out that 2018’s “Shiny and Oh So Bright” was actually the moment in which that trio came together, and that would be correct. But, as Corgan said it himself, that release was a bit of a rushed and spontaneous work; so much that it contains only half an hour of music. “Cyr”, meanwhile, is a calculated effort: one that has been planned, conceptualized, and slowly built by the band.

As collaborative of an album as it may be, “Cyr” will never convince anybody it is anything other than a product of Corgan’s mind: as he is such a complete leader of The Smashing Pumpkins that he reportedly recorded most instruments of “Siamese Dream” himself. And although it is kind of silly to complain about Corgan having total control given that The Smashing Pumpkins have always been his band, for the good and for the bad, it is always a bit worrisome when Billy gets too caught up with conceptual matters, as those flights of grandeur have always tended to be the band’s downfall, since records that had the potential to be good collections of songs – such as the “Machina” pair and the scrapped “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope” – have historically gotten lost in the middle of foggy ideas.

“Cyr” is by no means different. With seventy-two minutes of music, it shows all the problems of The Smashing Pumpkins’ conceptual works: it is too long, it could have been trimmed down to a far more consistent release, and it has a concept that will fly over pretty much everybody’s heads, a characteristic that makes many of Corgan’s words here sound silly or pretentious. On a brighter note, it has the traits that stop the band’s most gigantic ideas from falling into the garbage bin, because its tunes are good, its hooks are plentiful, its melodies are beautiful, and it has an uncountable assortment of catchy moments; little musical sparkly gems that stick to listeners’ brains like bubblegum. It is, in many ways, The Smashing Pumpkins at their best and at their worst.

“Cyr”, however, makes an extra effort to put additional weight on that worst side of the equation. As stated by Corgan, musically the album is guided by a desire of his to respond to critics that have called him out for making the same type of music over and over again. “Cyr” is, thereby, paraphrasing Billy’s own words, a fight to display he is a contemporary musical artist, not one that is stuck in the 90s. Sadly, it seems Corgan’s idea of contemporary sounds is quite limited to the world of synth-pop, as that is the style in which all of the album lands. Truly, considering the creative drive behind the record, it could have been much worse, as Corgan would not be a good fit for the kinds of sounds that dominate much of the contemporary landscape; so, in a sense, synth-pop was probably a good choice for The Smashing Pumpkins. At the same time, results could have been much better.

The main problem here is neither concept nor length, but the fact The Smashing Pumpkins fail to make synth-pop of their own. From the outset, they were a band with a unique skill of merging the heaviest of riffs – uncorking walls of guitars powerful enough to make metal bands envious – with the sweetest and most vulnerable pop melodies. And ever since those days, Corgan and company have taken good advantage of those skills. Here, though, they do not. Overall, there is both beauty and darkness to be found in “Cyr”, a mixture that recalls the “Adore” era, when the band used electronic sounds to explore a nigh Gothic vein of their pop inclinations. But where “Adore” was original in spirit while retaining The Smashing Pumpkins’ heart, the originality of “Cyr” comes off as generic because it carries very little of the band.

It is hard to the deny the greatness of a tune like “The Colour of Love”; the beauty of an electronic ballad such as “Dulcet in R”; and the incredibly tasteful production touches of the record, like the processed female vocals that permeate most of the tunes and the occasional appearances of jangly guitars, as the ones that add a touch of alternative rock to “Wrath”. But, in the end, “Cyr” is both excessively homogeneous for its length, running out of steam by the second half when the quality of the tunes clearly degrades; and slightly too safe of a synth-pop effort, even if The Smashing Pumpkins turning to that genre is quite a bold choice. And perhaps that is what is so disappointing about it: the fact it is simultaneously courageous and not sufficiently audacious. At least before it is all said and done, Corgan gives us a glimpse of how good and original his band can be in this setting, as the tune “Anno Satana” provides a look into what “Cyr” could have ideally been: powered by synthesizers, sure; dark, absolutely; but also packing a heaviness that leaves the unique mark of The Smashing Pumpkins on synth-pop.

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Real Gone

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Album: Real Gone

Artist: Tom Waits

Released: October 3rd, 2004

Highlights: Hoist That Rag, Don’t Go into That Barn, Dead and Lovely, Make It Rain, Day After Tomorrow

As Tom Waits transitioned from the inebriated, gloomy, and raspy-voiced man who sang late at night in a bar full of desperate souls looking for consolation in a drink to the mad junkyard prowler who seemed to make music with recycled spare parts, one element of his art stood as a solid rock unaffected by the massive changes going on around it: his trusty piano. Whether as the leading heart of gut-wrenching ballads or as the backbone of an orchestra of circus musicians and back-alley beggars, it was by using the instrument that Waits channeled the soul, jazz, and – especially – blues traditions into the alcohol-soaked misery of his early years as well as into the cursed cabaret music found in the later half of his career.

In “Real Gone”, though, probably looking for a brand new approach to composition and arrangements, Waits drops his piano by the same dump in which he likely picked up the tools his band had been working with since “Swordfishtrombones”, from 1983. And for the first time ever, in his fifteenth studio album, the singer-songwriter spends a whole record without sitting on a stool to either pour his sadness onto the keys or bang them wildly. As a consequence, in a career that carries a great deal of musical variety in spite of its aesthetic constancy, the 2004 release threatens to rank as Waits’ most uniquely sounding effort. Such major break, however, cannot be solely attributed to the absence of the piano.

Spiritually, “Real Gone” features a strong connection with both 1993’s “Bone Machine” and 1999’s “Mule Variations”. From the latter, it boasts the quite distinctive feeling that, with the exception of a few techniques that give it a more modern coating, the music it contains is coming from almost a century ago: its instruments creak, its production is dry, and as if transmitted by an old radio that has trouble grasping its signal, it sounds distant and corroded by static. Meanwhile, from the former, it borrows a demeanor that is simultaneously ferocious, loud, and dark; “Real Gone”, like “Bone Machine”, feels like it was recorded in one of the waiting rooms leading to hell, and it is so proud of its rowdy ways that, not satisfied with producing one vicious racket, it also opts to spit it all right in the face of its listeners.

The method “Real Gone” uses to reach those qualities is, however, distinct from the ones employed by those other classics of the singer’s catalog. Its grainy and aged aura emerges from the fact its pair of producers, Kathleen Brennan and Tom Waits himself, have opted to take a visibly lo-fi route here: none of the pieces that make up the music of “Real Gone” sound as they should in normal conditions, with the voice of Waits and the guitar work of the always masterful Marc Ribot coming off incredibly distorted and the percussion clanging like big metal trash cans. Even more unique, though, is how the record achieves its moments of aggressive racket: in these, “Real Gone” gains a nigh industrial core that is neatly summarized by the title of the brief interlude “Clang Boom Steam”, as these tunes move forward as if musically propelled by a noisy machine that is leaking gas and oil all over the place.

Amusingly, much of the sonic lunacy in these wilder songs is reached in outrageous ways: more specifically, through the usage of turntables and beatboxing. The first tool is not that ubiquitous, only showing up in opener “Top of the Hill” as well as in “Metropolitan Glide”, but it leaves a considerable mark thanks to how unexpected it is, adding an urban, funky, and modernized luster that rather than diminishing the value of Waits’ usually idiosyncratic performances only ends up augmenting it thanks to the dissonance between his organic traditional musical sources and the delightfully out of place disc scratching that accompanies these two tracks. The beatboxing, on the other hand, is more pervasive, as Waits explores the application of his mouth (and the wonderfully disturbing sounds it can make) as a percussive instrument; he spits, scats, growls, blows, gargles, and clears his throat through almost half of the album, and the result is a symphony of human horror that suits the menacing soul of his blues and folk-based compositions quite well, especially in the tale of slave-trade told in “Don’t Go into That Barn”.

Like any Tom Waits album, “Real Gone” has plenty of quieter tunes to build a more comfortable – yet not so welcoming either – counterpart to the cuts in which it flat out bangs. In the tracks of the sort that are found here, Waits appears like the old and weary bandleader of a rural outfit that travels around in a rickety chariot spreading some darkness through already gloomy pieces of the land. Songs such as “Sins of My Father”, “How’s It Going to End”, “Dead and Lovely”, “Trampled Rose”, and “Green Grass” are tales of death, despair, and crime told through incredibly well-formed and scrambled imagery. And without exception, they are backed up with basic, steady, and sparse acoustic instrumentation. Surely, every once in a while, the electric guitar of Marc Ribot pops up to deliver a fantastic lick, but mostly they are led by banjos and acoustic guitars that sound so old it feels like they could fall apart at any moment, while Waits sings like he could meet the same fate.

As a statement to the good taste and talent of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, there is little to nitpick about the seventy minutes of music held by “Real Gone”. One could attack the unnecessary nature of the instrumental-only beatboxing of “Clang Boom Steam” and “Chick a Boom”, but they are so brief it hardly matters. Furthermore, it is possible to point at the length of “Sins of the Father”, which goes on for ten minutes, as excessive; but although the song does not have enough instrumental muscle to go such distance, it certainly makes up for it in the story it tells. And in a way, the same applies to “Circus”, which can be accused of being the dullest shot Waits has ever taken at spoken-word, but that exudes one alluring vibe nonetheless.

“Real Gone” is, when it is all said and done, one string of successes, and they come in many flavors. Whether he is emulating a death-metal-singing pirate to the sway of Caribbean rhythms in “Hoist that Rag”; scaring everyone in the neighborhood with the dancing lo-fi word-association of “Shake It”; screaming at the top of his lungs from heartbreak over the nasty blues groove of “Make It Rain”; or tackling, with surprising candidness, sweetness, and straightforwardness the horrors of the Iraq War through the acoustic-folk take on the sad journey of a soldier in “Day After Tomorrow”, the Tom Waits of “Real Gone” is not just a master of his craft, but also a man that shows an uncanny ability to innovate within the tight confines of the mad musical universe he built for himself to exist in.

The Woods

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Album: The Woods

Artist: Sleater-Kinney

Released: May 24th, 2005

Highlights: Jumpers, Modern Girl, Entertain, Rollercoaster

As they grew out of the underground punk rock scene where the band had gotten their start, a few notable elements began to emerge as defining characteristics of Sleater-Kinney’s sound. For starters, slowly but surely, Carrie Browstein and Corin Tucker developed an intertwining pattern of guitar-playing which on its apex, reached in “The Hot Rock” from 1999, recalled that of Television during the “Marquee Moon” era; with the caveat that though equally clean and clashing, the girl’s method was not as technically flashy and – making use of that trait – they used the style to build tracks with a greater pop rock inclination than the ones produced by the New York quartet. Furthermore, as they played their instruments almost like two independent leads, Browstein and Tucker also sang in dissonance, rarely harmonizing and often going for melodic lines that could have easily been used as the base of two different tracks.

It sure was a lot of content to unpack, especially when it came in short yet potent packages of three minutes, but by 2002 that recipe had yielded four albums of great music. And these records, besides being excellent, had allowed Sleater-Kinney to bring their work to an audience that was not there to hear the punk rock gems which were their self-titled debut and its sequel, “Call the Doctor”. However, following such run and maybe realizing that the recipe had gotten slightly tired, the band took a three-year break between new material (their longest one up to that point) and came back into view with a rather retooled musical outlook, producing – in the process – their most widely acclaimed album: “The Woods”.

The seventh studio release by the trio is so jarring that it takes a good while for one to notice that, deep down, there are remains of the old Sleater-Kinney sound under it. To a lesser degree, the band’s two guitarists still play disjointed parts that somehow gel; likewise, they frequently switch lead vocals and occasionally go their separate ways melodically. However, in “The Woods”, the lean punk rock the girls used to do is replaced with a towering powerful pounding of suffocating stature. Strength and ferocity were never absent elements in the Sleater-Kinney formula; they were always there, even if wrapped in the quirky catchy charm of records such as “Dig Me Out”. But here, it seems that the anger that had always driven the trio rose to the surface and gained a visible physical shape of mighty proportions.

Released during an era plagued by excessively loud recordings that caused much of the music to lose its audio fidelity, “The Woods” could be listed as yet another victim of that tendency. Not only does the album bang, but it does so at a volume so extreme that it creates a thick layer of distortion which permeates all pieces that compose it: Browstein and Tucker, drowned in what seems to be a symphony of static, have to either scream to be heard or resign themselves to the fact it is all too much; Janet Weiss, always a masterful tasteful drummer, is forced to hit her kit as if she were part of a heavy metal band that constantly plays in overdrive; and the guitars seem to come out of cheap amplifiers that cannot handle them, with much of their constitution being sheer feedback.

It could be disastrous, but “The Woods”, differently from its contemporaries that stumbled on poor mastering, actually uses loudness as a stylistic choice. While many albums of the era were clean-sounding records whose crispness was lost somewhere in translation, in the case of Sleater-Kinney’s 2005 release that characteristic is actually there by design. Sure, at some point when listening to it one has to wonder how the music would have sounded if “The Woods” took a more controlled approach in relation to volume. However, although it could be argued a few of the tracks would have been improved by a cleaner presentation, the album would likely not be as interesting and strong if that path had been chosen. Corin and her signature vibrato screams would not have to be so fierce; Carrie, always one quite talented in the art of sounding mad, would not take her craft to new heights; and Janet would lose out on a great opportunity to sound trashy and thunderous.

More serious, perhaps, would be how Sleater-Kinney would not be able to explore new perspectives on their songwriting. A track like “The Wolf”, for instance, which opens up the album, has a large plodding riff of a magnitude that is nowhere else to be found in their discography. “Steep Air” is so lo-fi and drowned in feedback that even its vocals are distorted beyond recognition, giving birth to a moment of such untamed noise that groups like The Velvet Underground and Pavement – which are quite familiar with soundscapes of the sort – would blush. And nearly all of the album’s tracks are eventually broken by moments of instrumental freak-out so dizzying that they could be compared to the live assaults of loudness famously carried out by “My Bloody Valentine”; an experiment that reaches its peak in audacity when the girls violently jam to extend “Let’s Call It Love” to the eleven-minute mark.

Contrarily to what its rough presentation may indicate, though, “The Woods” also carries moments when Sleater-Kinney strongly flirts with the mainstream, as if the knowledge they were going to work towards imploding these tunes via an aggressive aesthetic made them free to write for a wider audience. “Jumpers”, which came to life when Browstein read an article about the suicides that take place on the Golden Gate Bridge, has her and Corin harmonizing on the verses over slinky guitars until the tune bursts into a chorus that feels like a cry for help. “Entertain” is a catchy percussive march in which Browstein (sounding more furious than ever) rants against artistic staleness and cheap entertainment. Lastly, “Modern Girl” is a ballad – a rare sight in the Sleater-Kinney catalog – that might as well be the most beautiful and heartfelt song the trio has penned; with a mildly sarcastic tone, the cut wistfully narrates the mundane life of the titular character, and as it becomes increasingly evident that the beauty seen there is both fake and deceiving, the tune is slowly overrun by feedback.

Although in disguise, “The Woods” still presents a handful of tracks that have a more notable Sleater-Kinney signature, like “Wilderness”, “What’s Mine Is Yours”, “Rollercoaster”, and “Night Light”. In tunes such as these, the guitar interplay is more pronounced and instead of pounding mindlessly or flirting with accessibility, they carry speed and energetic bounciness that can easily be related to the previous era of the band; one where they escaped from the confines of underground punk to break past the riot grrrl movement in which they started. Regardless of the songwriting style it is approaching, however, “The Woods” is an album that simply erupts, turning the loudness that was so prevalent in the music around the time of its release into a weapon and giving a physical listenable manifestation to the sheer strength that had always been present in the work of Sleater-Kinney.

A Kiss In The Dreamhouse

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Album: A Kiss in the Dreamhouse

Artist: Siouxsie and the Banshees

Released: November 6th, 1982

Highlights: Cascade, She’s a Carnival, Melt, Painted Bird

Despite often – and rightly so – being labeled as one of the forging forces of the gothic rock movement, Siouxsie and the Banshees were rarely strangers to the concept of light. It is undeniable that when the band started their career with the sequence of “The Scream” and “Join Hands”, there was little space in the ominous darkness of their work for some luminosity to break through. But by the time their third effort, “Kaleidoscope”, came out, the idea that there was not enough room for artistic creation in the tight corner in which they had originated seemed to be quite clear in the minds of the band members, and so Siouxsie and the Banshees began to expand their sound in order to allow light to leak into the music.

To a point, such evaluation could be made about any gothic rock outfit that lived long enough to question themselves about the direction in which they should go next; eventually, in most cases, the music got brighter. But following “Kaleidoscope”, Siouxsie and the Banshees developed a very unique relationship with light. The Cure, their most popular followers, for instance, would go on to constantly operate inside the extreme dichotomy of utter gloom and joyous bubblegum pop, producing songs that were entirely in only one of those two camps. For Siouxsie and the Banshees, though, light and darkness never achieved total domination over one another, transforming most of their discography – especially their classic run – into a display of how those two elements could coexist.

During that period, there is little doubt that “Juju”, their fourth album, stands as the strongest proof of that formula’s greatness, as the popularity of singles “Spellbound” and “Arabian Nights” ought to confirm. But it is its successor, “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse”, that qualifies as the most interesting piece, because in it what is bright and what is sinister converge in rather intense states. The result of that radical mixture is a record that although firmly anchored in the post-punk tradition is also able to drive straight into psychedelia; merging the grayness of the British industrial towns that generated angry and dark acts such as The Fall, with the daring artistic extravagance of someone like Kate Bush.

The despondent post-punk undercurrent comes from the mechanical clank of the drums and bass; as it happens in the songs of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ contemporaries, Joy Division, these instruments loom tall, serving as the body of the tracks and broadcasting an uncomfortable aura thanks to their inhumanly steady plod. Meanwhile, the colors come from what is built on top of that framework, which – in the case of “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” – turns out to be quite a lot. Specifically, the album is not notable because it brings keyboards and strings into the equation; the former had already been used to great effect in “Kaleidoscope” and the latter only appear in two songs. “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” is actually remarkable due to how audacious it is sonically, as its tunes – straightforward in construction – are decorated by layers of noises, overdubs, and effects that lend the pop contours of the band’s music one lush body.

The oddity of the parts greatly benefits from the versatility of Siouxsie Sioux herself, a woman that could sing – without ever feeling out of place – in a graveyard, at an avant-garde music festival, at a pop show, or in an opera house. And throughout “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse”, the singer and the Banshees make good use of that wide palette. Over a hypnotic and robotic duel of bass and guitar, “Cascade” dramatically builds to its chorus three times; and in every instance, it does so differently, with new instrumental lines and noises appearing in each run. “Green Fingers” takes a similar approach, but rather than feeling like a build-up, it is more of a constant rush adorned by occasional distorted hums and one quirky psychedelic hook played by a recorder. “Obsession”, meanwhile, follows the opening pair with industrial minimalism; part sinister march and part haunted nursery rhyme, the song is a repetitive melodic line sung over what appears to be a rainy landscape which is punctuated by a beat constituted of a guitar and a bell, as well as by the occasional appearances of menacing strings.

“She’s a Carnival” brings a radical shift of pace and mood to the album, throwing listeners into a hyperactive celebration of love that perfectly captures the vibe of the song’s festive title. In “Circle”, on the other hand, the once happy carnival seems to have taken a disturbing turn; led by a keyboard that plays what is best described as the sound a carousel makes when it is either broken or stuck in a bizarre time loop, the tune is a dissonant mass of elements that clash as Siouxsie sings about how children are negatively affected by the bad behaviors of their parents. “Melt” takes “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” back to the denser atmosphere of its first few tunes with a wide and majestic dream pop song that is, in both lyrics and music, drenched in sexual pleasure.

“Painted Bird” is, in the vein of “She’s a Carnival”, another slice of energetic pop rock, but in it the omnipresent darkness is more palpable, not only because of the grand cutting guitar line played by John McGeoch and the discomforting vocal overdubs by Siouxsie, but also due to how the song deals with the shocking story present in the book of the same title, where a man paints birds in a different color and returns them to their flock only to see them killed by their peers. “Cocoon” is bepop jazz but with a twist worthy of “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse”, as the band appears to improvise a simple shuffle over a thick layer of odd sound effects and an echo-laden atmosphere. And “Slowdive”, which merges crude post-punk instrumentation and strings, describes a dance that – thanks to the moves it includes and the song it should be performed to – is ideal for a decrepit club whose attendees are mentally deranged or greatly affected by drugs.

There are times when the off-the-wall experimentation of “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” dents it to different degrees: “Circle”, though conceptually excellent, verges on annoying because of the cycle in which its keyboards are stuck and of its length; “Cocoon” is a unique take on jazz, but could have benefited from firmer hooks; “Obsession” has a captivating melody, but its instrumentation could have been more developed; and “Slowdive” works as a post-punk dance number, but does not really leave any considerable marks. However, when “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse” is firing on all cylinders, it displays one of the finest and most inventive bands of the era doing what they did best; that is, packaging both light and darkness into accessible songs that push the envelope in artistic terms but retain an irresistible appeal. Siouxsie and the Banshees may have produced a few records that are better than “A Kiss in the Dreamhouse”; they have, though, never been as fascinating, jarring, psychedelic, and extreme as they were in their fifth release.

The New Abnormal

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Album: The New Abnormal

Artist: The Strokes

Released: April 10th, 2020

Highlights: The Adults Are Talking, Selfless, Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus, Ode to the Mets

Nonchalance and The Strokes have always walked side by side. Born within the New York rock tradition and, appropriately, borrowing from two of the city’s greatest acts in pairing up The Velvet Underground’s indifferent coolness with Television’s entwining guitars, the band that – as proclaimed by critics – brought the genre to the 21st century has always emitted a considerable air of casualness in relation to the world that surrounds it. And nowhere has that disregard been more evident than in the productivity the group has exhibited since 2005. Following a constant creative streak that saw the release of three albums in half a decade, the five members of The Strokes have – ever since the irregular “First Impressions of Earth” – fallen into a pattern that has them reactivating the band from time to time and frequently tiptoeing around rumors of studio work.

Given the constant activity the individual pieces of The Strokes have had outside of the group, such attitude has certainly not stemmed from lack of interest in music or from the desire to avoid the limelight: it is clear Casablancas, Fraiture, Hammond Jr., Moretti, and Valensi enjoy being engaged in artistic projects. Therefore, when combined with the irregular quality of the pair of records they have published since that initial stretch, “Angles” and “Comedown Machine”, and with the fact the first of the two was put together with members of the band barely meeting physically, it is impossible not to get the feeling that the boys – in their indecipherable nonchalance – either see The Strokes as a gigantic burden or as a relatively unimportant part of their current lives. Consequently, and perhaps unfairly, every new release by The Strokes comes attached to suspicions regarding the energy that was put into the package.

“The New Abnormal”, their sixth full-length studio work and third in almost fifteen years, is therefore absolutely preceded by doubts, especially in the minds of music aficionados that are not part of The Strokes’ most devoted audience, as those will undoubtedly question if the band still cares at this point and if they should feel the same in return. As far as that matter goes, “The New Abnormal” holds no answers at all, and it is improbable a future album by The Strokes – if there are any – will ever bring closure to that riddle. This 2020 release, however, carries a far more noticeable achievement: it conjures the image of a group of musicians that, rather than getting together to fulfill some non-existent obligation, has joined forces because they wanted to. In other words, “The New Abnormal” is the first time since 2005 that The Strokes emerge out of an album feeling like a band.

Due to the nature of Julian Casablancas’ work outside of The Strokes, which boasted echoes of the more synthesized faction of new wave, “Angles” and “Comedown Machine” came off as extensions of the singer’s solo career, as if the rest of the band could not muster the energy to pull the material to a middle-ground that could retain some of the group’s signature. In “The New Abnormal”, that balance is reached, and The Strokes – as such – seem to complete the transition they started nine years ago. Casablancas gets his share of synth-laden ballads and falsettos, but he never veers too far into that terrain because the band is there to anchor most of the tunes to the tight rhythms and angular riffs they became known for.

It is impossible to know whether that nature is the result of a concession made to fans or of a compromise reached between The Strokes themselves, but the bottom line is that there is some awareness of the situation on the part of Julian. In “Bad Decisions”, the first single and the track that is most reminiscent of their indie beginnings on account of its pure rock instrumentation and snaking guitar leads, the singer seems to address an audience that is disappointed with the turns that the music of their idols has taken. It is a tune that could be read as some sort of peace treaty, but selected as the cover letter of the album, it works more like a bridge to the rest of “The New Abnormal”. The Strokes, in that unadulterated state, are nowhere else to be found in the record; they are, as “Bad Decisions” reveals, quite alive, though, even if – as the result of a good and natural musical evolution – they are somewhat different.

The great middle ground struck by The Strokes is nearly omnipresent in “The New Abnormal”. “The Adults Are Talking” opens with a brief electronic beat that, although constant in the whole song, soon gets drowned by the drums of Moretti and the hypnotic guitars of Valensi and Hammond Jr. “Selfless”, whose melody culminates with a beautiful Casablancas falsetto, is a ballad tastefully decorated by electric instruments. “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus” is guided by synths, but the presence of Fraiture’s bass in the verse and the tune’s rocking chorus serve as reminders that the aura of The Strokes is still there. With a more ethereal body and slower pace, “At the Door” relies almost solely on synthesizers, clicking due to its excellent melody and because its electronic constitution brings an extra flavor to the album. “Why Are Sundays So Depressing” flirts with robotic dance music. And “Not the Same Anymore” reaches its climax with an angular riff that could have been on the slower moments of “Is This It” and “Room on Fire”.

With its general mid-tempo pace and a batch of tunes that take their time to evolve, the songs of “The New Abnormal” have lengths that are a bit unusual for The Strokes, with only two cuts falling slightly below the four-minute mark. Curiously, the best and worst moments on the record are its two most epic tracks: “Ode to the Mets” and “Eternal Summer”. On the positive end, closer “Ode to the Mets” is like a well-deserved victory lap; guided by a catchy and simple synthesizer line, which Julian follows note-by-note vocally, it progressively builds to a rousing outro. On the negative end, there is “Eternal Summer”; co-written with the Butler brothers, of the Psychedelic Furs, it loses itself in multi-phased synthpop and annoying vocal inflections by Julian, which at points seem to emulate the ranting moments of Roger Waters in “The Wall”, bringing memories of the worst pieces of “Comedown Machine” in the process.

Thankfully, with the exception of “Eternal Summer”, which is sadly the longest song on the package, “The New Abnormal” is devoid of missteps, easily earning the title of being The Strokes’ greatest album since 2003’s “Room on Fire”. Seventeen years after that release, the young boys who put that record together are now grown men. As a consequence, it would be wrong to hope the quintet would sound as youthful, meaningful, and full of energy as they did in those days; just like it would be unfair to want the 2020 version of The Strokes to emulate the sound they had in their first two fantastic works. “The New Abnormal”, as such, delivers the best one could expect out of the current incarnation of The Strokes: a solid album where the band succeeds in evolving without abandoning the unique traits that made them great in the first place. Whether they care about being The Strokes or not is irrelevant when the product delivered is so engaging.

EVOL

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Album: EVOL

Artist: Sonic Youth

Released: May 1st, 1986

Highlights: Tom Violence, Shadow of a Doubt, Starpower, Expressway to Yr. Skull

There are, quite naturally, plenty of elements to be found in “EVOL” – Sonic Youth’s third album – that can be easily linked to pieces of the two full-length releases that preceded it: “Confusion Is Sex” and “Bad Moon Rising”. The guitars, whose sounds expand and hang in the air for a while like a thin mist, present a delicacy in their physical manifestation that heavily contrasts with the uncomfortable feelings their atonal essence gives life to. As a consequence, the instrumental backing of the album’s tracks becomes shapeless, mysterious, and looming; the kind of material that could be employed as the musical basis of a psychological thriller that takes place in an urban, dirty, and industrial dystopia. And on top of those pieces lie vocal performances that are bold in their cold sloppiness, using partial indifference as a pathway to artistic value.

Yet, despite those glaring similarities, if there is one turning point to be found in the career of a group that – through thirty years, fifteen studio albums, and numerous labels (both big and small) – remained true to their alternative roots, “EVOL” is certainly it. The work marks the departure of drummer Bob Bert and the arrival of his replacement, Steve Shelley, which would stay with the band until the end of their run. And although it is hard to say how much that new addition contributes to the leap that is taken, as “EVOL” seems to be the natural conclusion of an evolutionary arch that was already relatively visible in its two predecessors, the fact of the matter is that a lot of that transition goes through Shelley.

“Confusion Is Sex” and “Bad Moon Rising” were morbid, mean, and menacing like a film depicting horrifying madness that threatens to break through the screen and drag listeners into its downward spiral towards insanity. “EVOL” is not too different; but, in it, the noise of Sonic Youth gains notable muscle. Where in their first two albums the band was prone to getting lost amidst their unique craft, with the quartet going on to produce many songs that degenerated into aimless attempts at creating dark atmospheres through racket; in “EVOL” the group emerges as a more focused entity. Instead of drifting out dully into the ether, their more experimental hours are anchored to the ground; meanwhile, their ability to construct tracks whose structures have a more traditional lean – which do so without ever abandoning their noisy edge – is more explored.

“EVOL” is, as such, the moment when Sonic Youth realized that their relentless desire to challenge the limitations of guitar music should not bar them from looking at the possibilities that reside in the more straightforward pop approach. It is a record that proves to the band as well as to their followers that pushing for abrasive tones, aesthetically unpleasant tunings, and weird distortions are not mutually exclusive with embracing the power of good hooks; and, in that process, “EVOL” shows that the extremist and confrontational rejection of conventional rock and roll values captained by the no wave movement – in which Sonic Youth was born – could be tamed into an excellent middle ground.

The record opens with a triple punch that immediately announces Sonic Youth has changed for the better. “Tom Violence”, “Shadow of a Doubt”, and “Starpower” are not just the finest tunes the band had coined up to that point; they are also testaments to how Moore, Gordon, Ranaldo, and Shelley could embrace sheer catchiness without losing their personality. By far the poppiest points of the album, they are fully developed pieces that merge immediacy and experimentation. In “Tom Violence”, sandwiched between segments with beautiful ringing guitars and a fantastic melody, there is a gripping instrumental break that disintegrates before slowly springing back to life. The delicate whispers and picking of the dreamy “Shadow of a Doubt”, Kim Gordon’s signature song, are interrupted by a nightmarish slice of noise that has the singer screaming in the background as if trying to escape from perturbed sleep. Finally, “Starpower” catches a hold of its racket to alternate between occasions when it drives forward in punk rock fashion and instances when it becomes abstract.

At the same time, though, “EVOL” holds enough room for Sonic Youth to go purely experimental, and in those cases the band also displays notable growth; particularly in how they are – almost always – able to steer clear from pointless indulgence. Boasting spoken vocals that seem recklessly thrown over its fantastic backing track, “In the Kingdom #19” recreates a car crash. “Green Light” flirts with pop when it opens with Moore singing a hypnotizing melody, but quickly ventures into noise. “Death to Our Friends” is an angry and fast-paced instrumental. “Secret Girl” is half a weird intro filled with dull sounds and half a fantastic recitation of poetry by Kim Gordon, who does so over a simple but touching piano loop. And “Marilyn Moore”, the album’s sole misstep, has bored and irregular vocals by Moore, which match an equally uncertain instrumentation.

Appropriately, the catchy and the experimental sides of “EVOL” meet in perfect harmony to give birth to the record’s culmination: its closing track, “Expressway to Yr. Skull”. Clocking in at seven minutes, the song starkly opposes the rest of the album, which delivers its contents in relatively brief spans. “Expressway to Yr. Skull” uses a format, of which “The Diamond Sea” is likely the best and most extreme example, that Sonic Youth would go on to tackle multiple times during their career, as the tune grabs a melody many pop songwriters would have killed for, uses it for a small amount of time, and makes a sudden turn towards the land of lengthy musical freak-outs, essentially pushing the formula of “EVOL” to its utmost limits before the record slowly decomposes and comes to a close.

Although a surprisingly strong effort by a band that, slightly more than one year earlier, was clearly looking for solid footing, “EVOL” ranks among Sonic Youth’s best efforts without quite making a serious run for the top spot. Almost entirely free of instrumental frivolity, it still falters in lyrics and vocals, two areas which – for many – the band would never exactly nail, but that would nevertheless see clear evolution in the following years. Yet, as the muscular backbone of their tracks would start gaining notable strength with the follow-up, “Sister”, and as the substance in the band’s songwriting would also increase, “EVOL” is a unique middle ground between Sonic Youth’s purely atmospheric beginnings and the rest of their career, which would be more firmly grounded on the alternative scene. And, in that sense, it is a key – and thoroughly enjoyable – moment in the history of all kinds of rock that see noise as an integral part of their constitution.

Slowdive

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Album: Slowdive

Artist: Slowdive

Released: May 5th, 2017

Highlights: Star Roving, Sugar for the Pill, No Longer Making Time

Following 1995’s “Pygmalion”, their third full-length release, the renowned shoegazers of Slowdive officially disbanded after being dropped by their label, perhaps a sign that the movement they had helped popularize had, propelled from a cliff by the explosion of the Britpop phenomenon, run its course. In practical terms, though, the group never really went away, for three of its five members – including main songwriters Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell – continued to make music under the moniker of Mojave 3 through slightly more than a decade.

Such a shift in formation could easily have been seen as a minor lineup tweak for many bands, which would certainly soldier on whilst bearing the same flag; however, to Halstead and Goswell it worked as an opportunity to retire an old brand full of expectations on its shoulders and replace it with a disguise that would allow them to, with a foot still firmly planted on the dream pop terrains they so skillfully navigated, incorporate new sounds into their formula free from any sort of pressure. Life, though, has cyclical ways, and as interest in the shoegazing genre was reawakened by the return of My Bloody Valentine to touring in 2007 and their successful release of “MBV” in 2013, the name Slowdive was also to come out of its slumber shortly afterwards, a move that likewise ended up generating a series of shows and an original self-titled record.

The twenty two years that separate “Pygmalion” from “Slowdive” are a lot of time; a timespan that is certainly long enough for one to go into the album without any confidence that the version of the band contained in it will resemble in any way the group that broke apart in 1995. And indeed that is the case, for where “Pygmalion” was so sparse and dreamy that it was more ambient music than rock, “Slowdive” has bones, muscles, and structure. However, since “Pygmalion” was itself a large departure for the band at that point, that discrepancy does not mean “Slowdive” is an oddity or a product that does not relate to what came before it.

The truth, in fact, is quite the contrary: the biggest surprise of the record lies in how much it sounds like Slowdive; not the experimental outfit that birthed their third album, but the shoegazing giants that constructed a chain of wondrous EPs and two of the genre’s greatest albums: “Just for a Day” and, especially, “Souvlaki”. As a consequence, “Slowdive” feels more like a rebirth than a continuation; more like a look towards a glorious past than an evolution; and although that nature can cause it to be a victim of negative remarks regarding artistic stagnation, the twenty-four-year gap between it and “Souvlaki” makes it feel as when the return of a friend that had been absent for a while is followed by the very pleasant realization that they have kept all of their best traits.

“Slowdive” is, as such, appropriately titled because it is very true to the staples that fans associate with the band’s name. The soundscapes in which its eight tracks exist are so immense they transcend the barriers of headphones and stereo systems to engulf listeners into the lethargic ambiance that must live in the depths of the ocean or in the far reaches of space. Peacefully floating amidst those angelic environments, one is greeted by a myriad of sounds: the guitars of Halstead and Savill gently arrive in the form of rings or pulses from distant stars, always merging noise with beauty; the rhythm session of Chaplin and Scott lands with enough force to propel tunes forward but not with enough strength to dispel the mystical aura that surrounds the music; and keyboards and electronic elements appear as both gentle ornaments and velvety layers that fill up the empty spaces.

On top of that majestic haze, the voices of Halstead and Goswell show up like whispers, the messages they carry barely discernible, but the melodies that give them shape usually remarkable. At times the singers clash into some sort of beautiful cacophony of sounds that emanate from distinct sources, and at times they harmonize tightly; they are, however, invariably effective in how they transmit a tranquil tone that caresses listeners as they drift.

Along that sensory journey, the sonically uniform tracks that constitute it carry enough distinctions to keep the record interesting all the way through. “Slomo” is a grand opener that softly grows as it goes along, incorporating new pieces into itself until it fills the entirety of the soundscape; “Star Roving” is a rarity for Slowdive, a tune that rather than coming in like a soft mist moves like a fierce rocket; “Don’t Know Why” is an elusive mass of murmurs and instrumental shifts; “Sugar for the Pill” shows the band has their ears open to the success of introspective indie acts such as The xx; “Everyone Knows” tests the limits of noise and melody; “No Longer Making Time” plays with quiet-and-loud dynamics by bursting into the album’s most cathartic chorus; “Go Get It” ranks as the most experimental cut in the record, being hurt by an exaggerated reliance on a refrain that, albeit catchy, flirts too closely with clichéd terrain; and closer “Falling Ashes” is centered around a simple piano loop and an endlessly repeated melodic line that never get tiring thanks to their inherent beauty and the power of Halstead and Goswell’s whispered harmonies.

Along that path, old fans will be accompanied by the happinesses of knowing that following the detour of Mojave 3 and the loss of identity seen in “Pygmalion”, Slowdive has not just returned, but also reunited with its finest version; meanwhile, those that bump into the band for the first time with the release will be welcomed by the Slowdive sound in its best state, one that may not recreate the revelatory experience of “Souvlaki”, but that is nevertheless enough to submerge listeners in a serene pool of tranquility where atoms of beauty wash over their bodies.

Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness

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Album: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins

Released: October 23rd, 1995

Highlights: Tonight Tonight, Zero, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, To Forgive, 1979

Billy Corgan envisioned “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” as his generation’s equivalent of The Beatles’ “White Album” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. They were certainly high bars to aim for, but Corgan – always rightfully convinced of his greatness as a songwriter – was fully aware that he could pull off something of the sort. The Smashing Pumpkins’ third work is, however, far removed from those albums. Although its two discs are meant to represent the passage from dawn to starlight, its music hardly evokes that transition, and the lack of an overarching theme (save for Corgan’s usual melodramatic angst and depression) makes it fall short of the conceptual greatness of “The Wall”. At the same time, despite the fact that “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” does show the band stretching their wings past the walls of guitars that dominated “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” and venturing into new musical terrain, it does not quite embrace as many styles as the schizophrenic “White Album”.

However, not being any of those records actually does “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” quite a whole lot of good. Containing two hours worth of material and twenty eight songs – hence making it far longer than the two works that inspired it – the album ends up amounting to a mesmerizing set of rock songs rather than an opera (“The Wall”) or a vicious, ultimately unfocused, competition between two songwriters (“White Album”). It is, undoubtedly, a lot of content, which makes getting through the album’s full length one challenging listen; still, even though it is undeniable the record could have been edited into one amazing fifteen-track piece, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” is one double album that does not reek of overindulgence. Firstly, because blatant duds are rare (with the shouted “Tales of a Scorched Earth” probably being the sole exception); secondly, because even the songs that are not flawless gems have redeeming qualities, such as one or two strong melodic moments; and finally because the album catches Billy Corgan at such an astounding songwriting groove that the twenty eight tunes offer a nice balance between instant classics and curious experiments.

When The Smashing Pumpkins go loud in “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, they usually trade the long buildups and instrumental passages of “Siamese Dream” for more immediate tunes, such as the guitar crunch of “Jellybelly” and “Zero”, the explosion of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, or the highly melodic “Muzzle” and “Here Is No Why”. In “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans”, “Thru the Eyes of Ruby”, and “X.Y.U.”, though, the band expands upon the lengthy nature of their past compositions and builds tunes that are borderline progressive in their complex construction. The album also holds space for gorgeous guitar-centered ballads (“To Forgive”, “Galapogos”, “By Starlight”); grandiose orchestration that is stunningly integrated into sweeping rock (“Tonight, Tonight”); acoustic introspection (the amazing “Thirty-Three” and the merely solid “Take Me Down”); brushes with pop music (“Love”, “In the Arms of Sleep”, and “Beautiful”); violent attacks with overdubbed guitars (“An Ode to No One”, “Where Boys Fear to Tread”, and “Bodies”); piano-based tracks (the title cut and “Cupid de Locke”); and, of course, a moving classic about coming of age where The Smashing Pumpkins integrate Corgan’s sensibilities, a soft guitar riff, loops, and samples (“1979”).

“Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” could indeed have been a better record. Most of its hits, and a considerable portion of its greatest tunes, are found in the first disc, meaning that a more sober track sequencing could have avoided the front-loaded vibe many listeners will get from the album. Additionally, in spite of how Corgan succeeds in connecting to a younger and angry audience via his depictions of pain, broken expectations, and other hurtful experiences, he occasionally veers too far into caricature, uttering sentences that would only have worked as parodies of teenage angst and that will automatically sink a handful of the tracks to some. Nevertheless, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” is a perplexing achievement, for it sees one of the nineties’ greatest bands and one of the decade’s finest songwriters pour the results of their talent and prolificness into a highly ambitious double album, and – on the way – produce more hits than many artists are able to come up with during their entire careers while also daring to be artistically bold at some points.

Songs Of Experience

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Album: Songs of Experience

Artist: U2

Released: December 1st, 2017

Highlights: Get Out of Your Own Way, Summer of Love, Red Flag Day, 13 (There Is a Light)

In their never-ending quest to be perceived as the biggest band in the world, it seems that – somewhere along the way – U2 completely lost the ability to reinvent themselves. Gone are the days when the Irish were able to take weird and productive stylistic turns, such as the one that gave birth to the excellent “Achtung Baby”. And, likewise, ambitions and the passing of time have apparently eroded their ability not to take themselves too seriously. As such, “Songs of Experience” is not different either in spirit or purpose from “No Line on the Horizon” and “Songs of Innocence”, its two immediate and bland predecessors: it is a record clearly written with the purpose of being listened by as many people as possible. Consequently, U2 runs away from production and songwriting choices that have the slightest possibility of throwing the average listener off, settling for what is safe, familiar, and – ultimately – insipid.

Seeing mass appreciation as a starting point for the album, rather than a natural consequence of writing great tunes, causes the band to be stuck in the meandering land of soft adult-oriented rock. “Songs of Experience” is a work where the guitar, drums, and bass are stripped off their power, making the bed on top of which Bono’s voice and lyrics, by all means the stars of the show here, stand feel lifeless. Directing the spotlight towards these two elements is somewhat ambivalent: while it is a move that highlights the fact Bono can still magnificently belt an emotional tune, it also makes the flaws of his lyrics greatly apparent. Throughout the record, and perfectly aligned with the work’s title, he wears the mantle of a wise spokesperson on the hardships of life; however, his pep talks do not carry the revelatory wisdom he seems to think they posses: what he says, as evidenced by the titles of many of the tracks, is quite mundane.

For all the criticism it deserves, “Songs of Experience” is not without qualities. At this point in their career, the members of U2 know a solid melody when they see one, and through the length of the album the melodic hooks are plentiful, both in the poppiest side of the spectrum (“Lights of Home”), in the touching quiet moments (“Love Is All We Have Left”), and when the group rocks out (“American Soul”); all of those moments, however, come with the caveat of occasionally veering towards the cheesy and commonplace. The pieces that are enjoyable without any sort of warning labels are, unfortunately, not numerous: “Summer of Love” is a nice percussive tune with a Caribbean sway to it; “Red Flag Day”, by a large margin the best track of the bunch, could have been written by U2 during the recording sessions of “War”, as it carries the aggressiveness and heart of that period; “Get Out of Your Own Way” blows up into a cathartic chorus (which instrumentally recalls “Beautiful Day”) where The Edge’s guitar, for a moment, puts the band back on its track; and “13 (There Is a Light)” achieves gorgeousness in a non-forced way, a rare achievement for U2 these days.

As a whole, “Songs of Experience” will undoubtedly fulfill the plan U2 held for it when they entered the studio. It is easy to picture how many of the cuts contained within will be the soundtrack to gargantuan stadium concerts that will continue to build upon the band’s mythological aura; its success and sales will keep one of rock’s longest-running institutions away from being at the risk of living the twilight of their career as an act that leans on the distant past for survival. It punctually refreshes the setlist to what will be the greatest concerts of the lives of thousands of people, and keeps the group’s creative juices flowing. At the same time, from an artistic standpoint, it carries little value, because not only is it devoid of unexpected twists, but it is also mostly unremarkable.

Meat Is Murder

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Album: Meat Is Murder

Artist: The Smiths

Released: February 11th, 1985

Highlights: The Headmaster Ritual, Rusholme Ruffians, I Want the One I Can’t Have, Well I Wonder

Although it was not The Smith’s first record, and despite the fact it had been preceded by a strong album (the band’s self-titled debut), “Meat Is Murder” was quite revelatory to the general public. Like many musical works of the 80s, “The Smiths” had its good songwriting undermined by misguided production techniques: the group’s post-punk aggression – which was veiled by Morrissey’s drama and melody, and Marr’s otherworldly instrumental gift – came off as muffled; the band’s greatness shyly shinning through an overly reverberant soundscape that was not suiting for many of their edgier tunes. Conversely, “Meat Is Murder” marks the first time The Smith’s fantastic sound was successfully captured and translated onto a full-length piece of vinyl, and “The Headmaster Ritual”, which opens the album, is quick to announce that victory: traveling through quiet segments that, guided by Marr’s signature jangle, alternate between lamenting the tyranny of authoritarian teachers and rising to confront it, it culminates in an aggressive riff which serves as a chorus that propels the song forward and back to its verse.

And right there, inside that quiet-and-loud dichotomy whose two extreme spectra are perfectly captured, “Meat Is Murder” declares it contains both sides of The Smiths’ in an immaculate state; and both Morrissey and Marr find a way to rise to the occasion and amplify that quality by considerably polishing their songwriting. When they aim for the looser shade of their nature, The Smiths sound, at least in instrumental terms, as frantic as any punk group: what sets them apart, however, is the orchestral aura Marr’s guitars lend to the songs and Morrissey’s alternation between being tongue-in-cheek and tragic. In “What She Said”, as the group threatens to implode over a vicious circular guitar-and-drum pattern, Morrissey sings of a girl who is eager to meet an early death to escape her misery; meanwhile, in “I Want the One I Can’t Have” and “Nowhere Fast”, whose bouncy fast riffs beg for listeners to move, he – respectively – says that the poor can only find happiness in love and proclaims that, given the utter boredom of his life, he pines to shake it up by dropping his trousers in front of the Queen and exposing his slender means.

On the other hand, when they go for sheer misery, The Smiths sound ominous and disheartening. “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” echoes inside a wide space worthy of Joy Division while a haunting slide guitar looms over Morrissey’s sadness like a gliding vulture; and “Well I Wonder”, in which the singer ponders if the one who broke his heart can hear him cry at night and has any knowledge of his existence, is lifted into the air by the gorgeous acoustic strum of what sounds like an orchestra of guitars. Besides evolving, the group also moves forward by dabbling, with productive results, into unusual grounds: “Rusholme Ruffians” borrows from Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and uses rockabilly to describe a tragicomic British carnival; and “Barbarism Begins at Home” highlights the power of The Smiths’ rhythm section of Joyce and Rourke by taking a fantastic funk rock groove past the six-minute mark.

The final experimental piece of music that “Meat Is Murder” holds is the closing title track, which in spite of more than one minute of animal grunts and Morrissey’s overly self-righteous lyrics about vegetarianism, is positively sinister in its combination of a dark cyclical guitar and piano pairing, and bizarre sound effects on the track’s background. “Meat Is Murder” is, therefore, a record that is astoundingly consistent in its greatness, displaying considerable growth in terms of songwriting, sound, and variety, and catching one of the finest rock groups of all time close to its peak, which would come right afterwards.