Has Anton Newcombe lost his goddamn mind, or does he just want everyone to think so? And does it really matter? These among other questions burned my brain throughout my ascetically excruciating listening experience of Brian Jonestown Massacre’s new album, Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? Still, by the time I finally reached the end of its interminable one-hour runtime, I was left with no answers, only further uncertainty — not only as to the band and their terrifying lack (abundance?) of self-awareness, but also my life, our lives, existence, nature, the Universe. I suddenly hated myself, hated my surroundings; mostly, I hated Anton Newcombe.
Everyone and their sister, at this point, has seen DiG!, the 2004 documentary on Brian Jonestown and their ‘feud’ with pretty-boy pop hacks The Dandy Warhols. You’ll remember that, at the end of that film, it was decided by a combined court of Judges Joe Brown, Judy, Hatchett, Mathis, and Reinhold that both bands were at total and cosmic fault; that neither was the victor and to no one went the spoils. Both bands were cited for their misuse of irony, their pseudo-clever, celeb-punny names, and their independently derivative, uninteresting 60s-mining sounds, and were sentenced to die by beheading. But while the Dandies indeed met a nasty end by the hand of honorary executioner Roky Erickson, BJTM managed to escape into the dark, damp night. Since it was generally thought that the band would make every attempt to stay off the grid, thus signifying an end to their tactless and profuse recording career, all involved muttered “eh” and agreed that justice had been served.
But all were wrong. Suddenly, and without any warning at all, comes Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?, a monumental failure of the American judicial system and an aural affront to music lovers worldwide. By now, readers of this site may have heard “Let’s Go Fucking Mental,” Sgt. Pepper’s lead single and a pretty good indication of what level of professionalism to expect from the whole damn thing. “Let’s go fucking mental/ La la la la,” Newcombe repeats over and over AND OVER against an Odelay-reject beat. Believe it or not, it’s one of the album’s more listenable songs.
BJTM have apparently wrung the last bitter drops of blood out of the 1960s psych-folk they once co-opted as their own; little of that is found here. Not to speak of its title, “White Music” is a lazy attempt at ambient drone. Several tracks find the band approximating low-rent Euro club beats and layering them under computerized voices or foreign-language vocals (Newcombe lives part-time in Iceland), to shitty and nonsensical effect. “This is the One Thing We Did Not Want to Have Happen” starts out promisingly enough as something resembling rock and roll, but lasts about a million minutes too long. Remember when you were a kid in school, and there was always that one other kid who didn’t know when to let up? Like, he’d get really close to your face and repeat a phrase over and over, because he knew it was annoying as all hell? Listening to Sgt. Pepper is a little like that.
Only toward the end of the record does BJTM finally let up, delivering a couple relaxed and half-realized shoegaze jams (“Super Fucked” and “Our Time”) that come close to being good. Sadly, it is all for naught: closer “Felt Tipped Pictures of UFOs” is a plodding 10-minute turdfest, all cheesy moonbeam keyboards and a maddening vocal track of a girl arguing about The Beatles. Duh. Why did I expect anything else? Originality on BJTM records has long been hard to come by, and Sgt. Pepper is no exception. Ultimately, whether or not Newcombe is fucking with us becomes irrelevant; if you take the time to listen to an album like this, you’re being played one way or another. You know how O.J. Simpson released that book about if he had done what everyone knew he probably did? BJTM asking who killed Sgt. Pepper is a lot like that. Hey TV judges, howzabout a murder trial?