(Rise Above Records)
Back when I started reviewing, I remember deciding—in the cocky kinda way you do in your early 20s—that I wasn’t going to be like those other reviewers. Oh no—none of that lazy comparative stuff for me. You know the type of thing: 250-word nuggets for the local chip-wrapper, “they’re like [Band X] partying in a muddy old Subaru with [Band Y]… ON MUSHROOMS!”, blah blah blah.
The longer I continue to write reviews, the harder it becomes to keep this promise to my younger self. For every stellar gem or slice of authentically off-kilter weirdness that lands on my desk (or rather passes through my email inbox) and sets me alight with wordswordswords, land twenty or thirty other perfectly agreeable records about which there’s very little to say, beyond from that they sound like a mish-mash of other bands from the last forty years or so of popular music.
So it is with Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. Now, I could sit here and describe with complete and clinical objectivity the guitar tones, the tempos and rhythmic fills, the harmonised lead lines and hell knows what else, but I can’t find a way to do it that doesn’t read like an obsessive-compulsive sound engineer’s diary entry. It’s boring to write, and I have a rule of thumb that stuff that’s boring to write is almost certainly going to be boring to read. (Maybe my fun-to-write stuff is boring to read, too, but hey, you’re paying nothing to read a webzine with a dead pigeon as its masthead logo; you buy the ticket, you take the ride.)
All of which is to say: Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats sound like ol’ grumpy slap-head chappie outta Smashing Pumpkins never managed to locate Darcy, Jimmy and the other guy whose name I always forget, and instead wandered in on the guys from The Sword while they were just getting started on a lengthy spelunk into the woozy slo-mo depths of a ketamine all-nighter.
And hey, look, this isn’t laziness; I can back this shit up. Listen to those vocals: kinda sneery-whiny sincerity sounding double-tracks, delivering lyrics such as “I’m your poison apple / in the tree”, or “give me your love / our evil love”, or (seriously) “I’m the devil / and I’m here to do the devil’s work”, which even Billy Corgan himself would probably have thrown aside as being just that little bit too written-on-the-inner-flap-of-your-sixth-form-ringbinder, even for the pouty-scowly alt-rawk of the 90s.
The band, meanwhile, are all slo-mo stoner clichés, beautifully performed but amazingly derivative. There was a time I’d have thrown bong-water over myself for saying it, but there’s only so much you can do with pentatonic drop-tuned grooves that pedal around the thick string at the upper edge of the fretboard, and while there’s some rather charmingly lazy lead hooks here and there, Mind Control does absolutely eff all that Kyuss* didn’t do—and they were doing a third generation spoof of earlier bands!
I dunno, but I have a theory—and it’s that there is too much music now.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing per se; I think it’s ace that it’s so easy now for any band almost anywhere with an internet connection can get their tunes out and have ’em heard by anyone else with an internet connection. I don’t even have a problem with derivativeness (if that’s a word?); I like me some seriously derivative music, thankyouverymuch. But it’s bloody difficult to describe it without couching it in the terms of some other musics, and getting harder by the day.
Think about it: back in the late 60s, there were maybe a few score bands of note, globally, and a similar number of also-rans and copyists. You could keep up with pretty much the whole of the pop’n’rock release schedule; what you couldn’t buy yourself, you either heard at a friend’s place or on the radio, or maybe read enough about to get a grip on what it was like. If you had a hundred slabs of vinyl in the 70s, you were a serious collector.
But now I look at my music archive folder on my computer, here, and my music playing software tells me that, were I to load and shuffle the whole collection into a single playlist, I’d be listening for the best part of two years before it started repeating itself… and my collection is nowhere near comprehensive on the classics of any of my favourite genres, let alone comprehensive full-stop. Two fucking years of music! So is it any surprise that everything we hear sounds at least a bit like something we’ve heard before? Is there anything more that can be done to push the boundaries of music and keep it pleasurable (or at least interesting without being physically painful) to listen to? Can there be anything new under the sun?
And before anyone pipes up about how innovative bloody dubstep is, I’ll point out how much it sounds exactly like the tech-step and drum’n’bass of the early noughties, just made with better quality software synths, and occasionally with some mumbling douche-canoe talking over the top about how he digs aviator shades and terracotta jeans with elasticated cuffs at the ankles or something.
Get off my fucking lawn.
Dear reader, I exaggerate for rhetorical effect: newness does come, of course it does, but it’s rare. The future composts the past, as a certain science fiction writer turned futurist has a habit of saying; well, the past is one big compost heap, and increasing in size exponentially, so maybe it’s no wonder things aren’t totally mulched down when they resprout and break out of the top of the mound.
And y’know, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats haven’t made a bad record, here. It’s pretty decent drugs-rock, as drugs-rock goes… but there’s surely a dozen other perfectly decent drugs-rock records of equal unoriginality that have been released in the last month or so. Can I recommend this record over those records? Having not heard them, of course I can’t.
But I can tell you this one is good enough—especially if you’re the sort of person who, confronted with the mental image of Billy Corgan sat halfway up a beech tree in a Cambridgeshire spinney, wailing about avoiding the brown acid before biting the head off a bat, will laugh hard enough to blow your Rizla off your rolling tray.
[*Kyuss, for all the water under the bridge since, were at least never guilty of taking themselves too seriously; I’m not sure if Uncle Sid and his Dead Beats are being serious or not, but if they’re not, it’s not obvious that they’re not. Or something. Maybe this is that New Sincerity thing I keep hearing about? Have the hipsters finally brought their po-faced and ironic incomprehension of irony to the psychedelic me†alllz0rz? Help—I’m lost in a maelstrom of self-referential postmodernity, and I can’t seem to remember where I left my keys… perhaps I left them with the guy from NPR, who obviously read the press sheet and skipped listening to the record before writing that Nephew Lysergic and the Dread Treats sound—and I kid you not—“as if the Fab Four finally took a trip too far.” Fucking hell, son—you’ve evidently heard some Beatles records I haven’t. Pass me that joint, now.]