The Brian Jonestown Massacre My Bloody Underground

[A; 2008]

Styles: neo-psychedelia, noise pop
Others: My Bloody Valentine, The Velvet Underground, John Lennon, R.E.M.

Anton Newcombe, head of ever-rotating neo-psychedelic rock outfit The Brian Jonestown Massacre, is a recovering addict. His old drug of choice: rock ‘n’ roll, and all its trappings -- alcohol, heroin, and self destruction. Newcombe’s past afflictions are not a mystery to anyone who viewed Ondi Timoner’s notorious documentary, Dig!. Released in 2004, Dig! depicted Newcombe as an archetypal rock star: mercurial, egotistical, and eccentric. Since that time, Newcombe has distanced himself from that closely related persona (and Dig! in general), even reportedly kicking his H addiction, but that which saves you hardly ever makes your music stronger. This proves true on The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s latest release, the middling My Bloody Underground, which finds their leader free of the inspiring demons that once made him such a fascinating, engaging artist.

Newcombe’s long running personal artistic mandate has been to “keep music evil.” The manner by which Newcombe has applied this motto has been through the persona he has attached to his music, which has kept in the tradition of “beating the Man at his own game.” In the beginning of the post-Cobain epoch of the recording industry, the period in which The Brian Jonestown Massacre released their first full-length album, Methodrone (1995), the tormented drug addict was out of style, and the smiling pop diva was in favor. Newcombe and his dope were the epitome of counter-culture. But 1995 is eons ago in recording industry years, and in 2008 the tormented drug addict is once again in style, as evidenced by the self-destructive exploits of Amy Winehouse. Newcombe says he's clean now, but how has his ongoing recovery manifested itself in his music? If My Bloody Underground is any indication, Newcombe’s music is superficially still “evil” in name, but truly toothless in nature.

Newcombe sets high standards and expectations with the name of the album, which evokes the awesome “evil” ghosts of pioneering and political alternative rock groups My Bloody Valentine and The Velvet Underground, but fails musically to deliver either a novel, pioneering sound, or a stirring political voice. Nearly every track on the album echoes disparate sounds of rock ‘n’ roll’s collective unconscious, while never doing anything with them.

The soothing chimes, which resonate psychedelia on the opening track, are wasted against the backdrop of a whiny, monotonous guitar riff that tediously lingers untouched. Soon, the dynamic 1960s psychedelia of the opening track fades, giving way to walls of distorted guitars that -- when amalgamated with numbing echo'd vocals, with no poignant or dynamic shifts -- either drone drearily (“Who Cares Why”) or screech annoyingly (“Just Like Kicking Jesus”) for minutes on end.

These musical missteps only serve to highlight the tired shock politics found on the album. Controversial terms like “faggot” and “nigger” are inserted into well-known titles for no clear reason, which leaves Newcombe’s desired political bite ultimately ineffectual.

Where Newcombe’s music once sounded fresh and lively, his political message both controversial and effectual, on My Bloody Underground his music is neither fascinating nor engaging. What's worse, his message is simply toothless. Which leaves a few questions lingering. First off, did Newcombe really, really clean up (lying about heroin habits is a time-honored rock-star tradition)? And if he did manage to quit hard drugs, did Newcombe’s Transformation save him from rock ‘n’ roll’s misgivings but sap him of the ingenuity they can inspire? Only time will tell if Newcombe can reach the lofty heights of his former self, but until then, listeners would be best advised to skip BJM’s latest release and check out their deep, stellar back catalogue.

1. Bring Me The Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mill's Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs on the White House)
2. Infinite Wisdom Tooth / My Last Night in Bed With You
3. Who Fucking Pissed in My Well?
4. We Are the Niggers of the World
5. Who Cares Why?
6. Yeah-Yeah
7. Golden Frost
8. Just Like Kicking Jesus
9. Ljósmyndir
10. Automatic Faggot for the People
11. Dark-Wave-Driver/Big Drill Car
12. Monkey Powder
13. Black-Hole-Symphony

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