on 18 June 2001
In these times of post-Nevermind superslick 'punk' records Big Black sound even more vital now than they did during their short lifetime. Sure, grunge took punk influenced rock into the American mainstream, but in doing so it was diluted and neutered (save for the odd abberation, notably Nirvana's Albini engineered 'In Utero' album). This goes some way to explaining why many 80's punk records (Black Flag's 'Damaged', The Jesus and Mary Chain's 'Psychocandy and so on) sound infinitely fresher, noisier, and less self concious than most of today's efforts.
Even among the thrash and splutter of 80's hardcore punk, Big Black stand out as being especially maleovolent. Steve Albini's clanging nails-on-a-chalkboard guitar sound makes most nu-metal types sound like Donovan in comparison, whilst the first person illustrations of the sickness endemic in society are chilling, worrying, but often blackly humourous (check any of the band's album liner notes!).
The attraction of this compilation, and indeed of the band themselves is firstly and foremostly the sheer vicious blast of sound present. The songs are mostly fine too, but as with early Sonic Youth, this is really secondary to the noise itself.
Jordan Minnesota is as disturbing and uncompromising an opener as has ever been released, and cannot be deemed pleasant listening, even for noise fetishists. Albini acts out the role of a child abuser, driving home his disgust at the sickness of mankind far harder than saying "it's wrong, don't do it" could ever do.
The almost danceable 'Passing Complexion' and 'Big Money' are equally forceful, if rather less clear in their intentions. The album's real ace card, and Big Black's finest moment however is track four:'Kerosene'. Kicking off with an intro sounding more like oil drums being clattered than a guitar, the riff steadily climbs over a loping drum loop before crashing into the heaviest moment EVER, with Big Black sounding more like scrap iron in a metal crusher than a rock 'n'roll band. Albini's bleak vision of small town boredom and despair bides time before the next squalling explosion, until after about six minutes the song collapses in a serrated crash of ear splitting noise. Perfection.
The record has plenty of other fine moments, the mutant juggernaut surf-punk of 'Bazooka Joe' charges headlong into oblivion, whilst remaining strangely catchy. 'Stinking Drunk' walks the fine line between comedy and ugly hickdom whilst sounding like Joy Division on steroids, and 'Cables(live)' features the best guitar intro ever submitted to tape (I pity the audience though).
The additional tracks on the album don't quite match the quality or ferocity of the 'Atomiser' material, though Heartbeat is excellent, if uncharacteristically poppy.
Whether buying the Atomiser LP by itself is a better move than purchasing this CD compilation depends on your desire to hear the extra EP tracks and/or your attitude towards vinyl. In the liner noters Albini makes no bones about which format he prefers (clue: it's black and 12" across), but at the same time it's your call.
As far as pure white noise goes there is very little, if anything to top this. It remains the pinnacle of punk rock ferocity whilst also having the sense to be scary, funny, and even to throw some decent songs in for good measure. Make it yours.
Once memorably described as a collision of aluminium spunk and spittle Big Black took the extreme noise aesthetic of hardcore , their twisted pitch ( big) black humour and nihilistic sensibilities and gave it a metallic almost in- human sheen. Big Black's music sounded like it was coming from some insidious alien -probably cyborg- entity except the songs preoccupation with society's sickness are all too human.
Steve Albini, has in his usual charming way, made no secret of his disgust for the CD format (though it's never stopped him producing many an album for bands who don't share his luddite aesthetic) and there are apocryphal tales of the band producing two masters tape for every album, one which was handed over in pristine condition for the L.P format while the other was used as Frisbee, beer mat and quite possibly to scrape the ice off car windows and would be used for the CD. Needless to say there are those who claim the vinyl versions of their albums are superior in sound quality though I must confess I can discern no difference. Albini would probably spit in my face.
Which brings me to "Eight Track" which comprises their incredible "Atomiser" album (minus the less than essential track "Strange Things) the patchily superb "Headache" EP and as a real bonus the bands version of "Heartbeat", originally released on a 7" single? Big Black were always a formidable proposition with their relentless pulverising drum machine (named "Roland") the incredibly bottom heavy bass and most importantly the clanging fractious guitar sound. Albinis snarled slightly whiny but paradoxically aggressive vocals and the sometimes puerile, sometimes provocative always bleakly humorous lyrics topped it off. And if you didn't care for the music there were always the entertaining sleeve notes to keep you amused.
Of the tracks included here "Jordan Minnesota" is notorious being as it is about a town where all the adults were suspected of indulging in child abuse (a charge which was later proved to be false). It's a bit sick to be honest but brilliantly atmospheric and the churning riff has a discernible undertow of disgust and horror not dissimilar to The Butthole Surfers "Jimmy". The undoubted tour de force is "Kerosene" which is basically a bored arsonist's wank fantasy but which has an exhilarating dramatic tension and recursant guitars that scream like flesh being burnt alive aptly enough. With "Passing Complexion" the sound is like a trillion tin can s being shredded while "Fists Of Love" is every bit as profane as it sounds but still hellishly enjoyable. "Stinking Drunk "is a crass punkzoid anthem while "Bazooka Joe" is heavier than a lead obelisk, and just as ugly. "Cables" live is awesome and makes me regret never catching them on a British tour.
The "Headache" material is patchy but "Grinder" is one of my favourite Big Black tracks, like they decided to ramp up the pace to white knuckle level .Primarily an instrumental the tracks one burst of lyrics -"you fools, you fools, you fools, you will not touch my tools" is ironic seeing the bands music often sounds like it was constructed on some sparking industrial power tool. A grinder perhaps? "Pete King Of All Detectives" is a signifier of where the band would go for their next album "Songs About F***ing" namely even more hardcore, showering molten embers of white hot sound and coruscating mangled songs. One minor gripe is the non inclusion of their excellent cover of Kraftwerks "The Model"
Big Black is an acquired taste for sure. Everyone I've introduced them to, has loathed them but get past the (seemingly) inpenetratable wall of fury and noise and a truly great band with some fantastic songs emerge. It as if Albini, perverse and stubbornly opinionated to the last, wanted as few people as possible to understand and exult in the music his band produced. Tough titty Steve, here's another who stayed the course and revelled in it. And I have bought this on CD but in deference to you and to old times I am still clinging on to my vinyl copy of "Atomizer".
on 27 January 2012
New to Big Black but thought I'd check them out having been a fan of Shellac and Steve Albini's production with the likes of The Pixies, Wedding Present, Jawbreaker, Nirvana etc, etc and was pleasently surprised. The album is heavy, lyrically disturbing yet insanely catchy. Once you get past the initial shock factor of the music these are almost pop songs! Fans of anything from the Jesus and Mary Chain to Marilyn Manson (I know!) would appreciate this. Excellent stuff. Go seek!!!
on 24 February 2010
I bought this cd after a friend played me "Passing Complexion", which is a fast, noisy and very danceable commentary on mixed racial heritage.
The rest of the album is very brooding by comparison with slower, grinding songs about boredom and activities of ill-repute. To call it punk rock doesn't really do it justice, I can't think of another band that sounds quite like Big Black and their sound is characterised by the guitars which sound like bits of rusty metal being scraped together, the Roland drum machine which firmly roots these songs in the 80's, and Steve Albini's thin growling vocals.
I can't imagine this cd being the only album I will ever need but if you need some dirty, horrible music (in the best posible way) with intensity and atmosphere then it may hit the spot.
on 28 June 2013
Big Black were one of THE best bands spawned in the USA during the 1980s. This comprehensive compilation collects tracks spanning their entire and relatively shortlived recording career. As an overview of their output it does the job, however casual listeners really need to own all the albums and EPs as are some excellent tracks from those that were not included on this CD. Big Black live were also phenomenal and Steve Albini remains one THE great guitarists and frontmen. I recommend both this complilation and all their recorded work to those partial to edgy, noisy yet melodic alternative rock.
on 3 February 2001
this CD should be up there with Never Mind The Bollocks, Clash (s/t) etc. as the ultimate punk records. jordan minnesota and kerosene r two of the finest records i have ever heard, bazooka joe is annoyingly catchy, heartbeat is the anti-love song.
compare em to Shellac, comapare em to Rapeman. ultimate punk, the birth of grunge
set me on fire